With little fanfare or drama, Rock Hill leaders canceled money for an art piece proposed at the city's water treatment plant, bringing a quiet end to what had turned into a fierce debate.
Mayor Doug Echols said city officials would do more in the future to seek out public opinion before committing to similar projects.
"It did not get the kind of airing that it needed," Echols said. "We didn't present the kind of opportunity for there to be a public vetting. I take responsibility for that not happening. I will make every effort to provide an opportunity in the future."
Instead of using $50,000 in hospitality tax revenues to pay for the piece, the city now will rely on private donations and grants. The switch reverses a decision made two weeks ago.
Echols apologized to the Winthrop University arts students and professors who conceived the project, only to see their idea put on indefinite hold. The group envisioned colorful silhouette images atop tall steel posts, with the goal of conveying the importance of water.
"This is not the way the city usually goes about doing its business," Echols said.
The 6-to-1 vote Monday night left John Gettys as the lone council member still in favor of public funding for the project.
Like other supporters, Gettys voiced frustration over how the project has been portrayed, saying opponents decry it as a symbol of wasteful spending without considering the facts.
Under state law, hospitality tax revenues must be spent within two years of when they are collected. The $50,000 already had been set aside in the city's $3.9 million hospitality tax budget.
"I still feel the conversation was wrapped into an economic issue," Gettys said after the meeting. "The argument was that we can't afford to spend the money at this time. (In fact), you've got to spend the money."
Hospitality tax revenues -- which come from a 2 percent tax on prepared food and drinks at restaurants and bars -- must be spent on tourism-related upgrades.
In this case, the city asked artists to suggest ideas for enlivening the water treatment plant, an industrial-looking complex in the heart of the Cherry Road retail corridor. Originally, officials considered water fountains that would have cost $250,000 before scaling back to a less expensive project.
As the ideas evolved, the nation's economic woes deepened. Opponents decried the art piece as extravagant at a time when businesses are closing and families are struggling to pay the bills.
But backers argued it would be another step in the revitalization of Cherry Road, one that would give work to young artists and showcase the city's commitment to setting itself apart.
On Monday night, most council members seemed eager to move past the controversy, as Echols was the only who weighed in with comments during the brief discussion.
Echols asked for the Rock Hill Parks Foundation to set up a fund to raise private donations. Established in 2004, the foundation is a nonprofit arm of the city's Parks, Recreation and Tourism department that helps pay for upgrades to public amenities such as Glencairn Garden, where boosters have raised more than $500,000 for an expansion and renovations.
Rock Hill's Harry Dalton, a longtime champion and benefactor of the arts, said Monday he hasn't heard of any plans to spearhead a fundraising campaign. Winthrop fine arts professor and lead organizer Tom Stanley has said he doesn't know whether the piece ultimately will get built.
The professor was more interested Monday in making sure the current flap doesn't have a chilling effect on future decisions.
"We appreciate the opportunity to be part of a dialogue about art and design in our community," he said.