Sarasota clarifies congressman's claim about future of controversial 'Unconditional Surrender' statue

The city of Sarasota found itself doing a bit of damage control Wednesday, releasing a statement regarding the future of the embattled 'Unconditional Surrender' statue near Bayfront Park. 

The city said the future remains undecided. This comes after Congressman Vern Buchanan announced prematurely that the statue would stay in its current location for the long-term, citing a conversation with the city manager, Tom Barwin. 

Buchanan tweeted on Tuesday that he'd been contacted by Barwin, claiming the city manager told him the statue would return to its current location following a construction project next year. In its clarification, the city said Barwin mentioned to the congressman what is likely to happen based on consistent feedback, but that a final decision has not been made. 

The city had planned to relocate the statue during the construction of a new roundabout on U.S. Route 41 and Gulfstream Avenue, but city commissioners had not indicated whether the statue would return to its original location once construction is complete. 

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In Wednesday's statement, the city said that although it appears most people want to keep the statue where it is in the long-term, officials want to open a conversation with members of the public. 

The piece is modeled after the iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse during a celebration in Times Square following the end of World War II. Many view 'Unconditional Surrender' as a tribute to those who fought during the war. However, some critics argue the work depicts an act that in today's context would be considered sexual assault. 

In 2019, near the height of the movement against sexual violence, vandals defaced the statue with the words 'Me Too.' There's been a push to relocate the piece to a less prominent place in Sarasota. The city has provided renderings of nine potential new sites for the statue. 

Any decision on a relocation will come from the city commission. So far, members have not set a date for such a vote. The city said it will release an online public survey in the coming days asking where to keep the artwork.