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IN 1994, HUGE COLUMBUS CAN’T GET THROUGH THE DOOR

SHARE IN 1994, HUGE COLUMBUS CAN’T GET THROUGH THE DOOR

Five hundred years later, Christopher Columbus is still trying to find his way to the New World.

It's not the Italian explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, though. This time, it's a statue.A big statue.

A statue that is 9 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

A statue so big that if you placed the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria on top of each other, bow to stern - something nobody ever thought of doing in the 15th century - the bronze Columbus would be seven stories taller.

Columbus, the largest city in the world named after the explorer, would seem the perfect place for the statue, a gift from the governments of Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan. But most of it remains at a foundry in St. Petersburg, Russia. The head's in a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Something - logistics, money, complaints that the thing is ugly - keeps getting in the way.

"It should be something easy to do, but it's not," sighed Jane Butler, chairwoman of the New World Monument Foundation, which is trying to bring the statue to this central Ohio city of 643,000.

First, there is the problem of getting it here. Plans to ship parts of the 500-ton bronze monument were postponed recently after designer Zurab Tsereteli balked at a piecemeal move, Butler said.

Right now, backers of the project are trying to work out the easiest route from Russia to Columbus, without falling off the edge of the Earth.

But that's not the end of Columbus' travails. Unless some modern-day Isabella steps up to hock her jewels, the $20 million-plus project may never get off the drawing board.

While Tsereteli and the former Soviet republics are paying for the statue itself and the cost of shipping, the foundation needs money for a park to put it in and a museum in the base of the statue.

Don't expect local interests to come up with the money, said Jonathan York, president of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce: "I have not found much enthusiasm in the business community for putting lots of private dollars into doing it."

Nor was there much enthusiasm in New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which already rejected Tsereteli's offer to put the statue there.

Privately, some say the only reason the statue project isn't dismissed out of hand in Columbus is the fear of offending Tsereteli. The good will of the president of the Russian Academy of Arts might be helpful to an up-and-coming city looking for business ventures in the former Soviet Union.

More than just an artist, Tsereteli is plugged into the highest levels of politics and business in his homeland.

His political reputation probably outshines his status in the art world, said Myroslava Ciszkewycz, an Ohio State University art historian.

"From a professional standpoint, he's known as a maker of monuments that typified the past era of Soviet society," she said.

Translation: If you're looking for grace and subtlety, look elsewhere. If you're into Soviet Socialist Realism, Tsereteli is your man.

And in fact, whenever the statue makes news, the mayor's community hot line lights up with calls complaining that the statue is ugly. Or it's too big. Or it's an affront to American Indians. Or it's a waste of money.

The city already has a statue of Columbus outside City Hall - a perfectly manageable 20-foot model donated by the city of Genoa, Italy, in 1955.

And residents are leery when it comes to big public projects.