Off Track? 

Cooper-Young Association asks city to take over art trestle.

It's hard to imagine terrorists targeting the 12 building facades sitting atop the railroad trestle over Cooper Street. The lighted gateway into Cooper-Young, one of Memphis' most recognizable examples of urban art, is not exactly vital for transportation. But try telling that to the insurance companies.

Marc Long, president of the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA), went before the City Council's Personnel, Intergovernmental, and Annexation committee last week, proposing that the city take over ownership of the art trestle and all the costs associated with it. Meanwhile, the group would retain ownership of the art.

"For the initial project," Long said later, "we had money from grants from the city and the Community Foundation [of Greater Memphis] along with matching funds from private donors and corporate donors. At that point, we took full responsibility [for the trestle] because we had the money in the grants to do it. After 9/11, the insurance went up and we started choking a little bit."

In fact, after 9/11, the insurance skyrocketed from under $1,000 to about $4,000 a year. Last year, the CYCA held its first annual Art for Art's Sake auction to cover the maintenance costs of the trestle and came close to raising the necessary amount. This year's costs will be offset by the CYCA's second annual art auction, scheduled for April 3rd.

"I think it has become a landmark for our community," said Long. "It represents our neighborhood very well." In fact, the community association even uses the trestle as part of its logo.

After years of neglect, the trestle was donated to the community by Union Pacific Railroad. The art -- facades representing Cooper-Young buildings and homes -- was created by local metal sculptor Jill Turman Brogdon and installed as a gateway to the neighborhood.

Last year, it cost the CYCA about $5,000 for the insurance, electricity, small painting jobs, and new light bulbs. "We don't mind taking care of the light maintenance," said Long. "For the larger items, it is difficult for us."

Because the association's lease with the city for the air space above the trestle is up for renewal this year, the association decided to see if another arrangement could be worked out with the city.

Though council members made no move toward city ownership of the property, they did seem supportive of the project. After council member Janet Hooks proposed the idea of additional city grants to fund the trestle's maintenance, Councilman E.C. Jones asked the UrbanArt Commission about a citywide gateway project.

Hooks called the Cooper-Young art trestle a "very worthy project" and said, "There are numerous trestles thoughout my district. I would love to see this type of artwork around the city."

In addition to citywide interest, the trestle has received national attention as other neighborhoods around the country have looked to do similar projects.

"I'm very optimistic that something good will come out of this," Long said of his meeting with the City Council. "A lot of neighborhoods would love to have something like this. We would love to do it on every trestle in our neighborhood. We have two more."


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