AN alternative artwork to replace the controversial tilting pier concept proposed for the banks of the River Ness will be showcased at a public exhibition next week.
Designs, to be displayed at Inverness Town House on May 24, have thrilled councillors who have had a peek at an international architect’s new offering.
The images are being kept under wraps for now. But the Courier understands the £370,000 art installation, still branded by Highland Council as the Gathering Place, will be divided into two sections positioned on either side of the river. The installation is thought to be a mix of stone and wooden construction.
There is great excitement among city councillors who have seen two-dimensional design work, and there is apparent consensus that it is aesthetically pleasing and will easily blend into the local, tranquil environment.
The "pier" project, proposed for a spot by Eden Court, was aborted two years ago due to the scale of public objections to the design.
The location for the new proposal is believed to be nearby, slightly further upriver, at the most shallow point on the edge of the Ness Islands.
The council’s Inverness city committee delegated powers of approval to the Inverness city arts working group. Its current chairwoman, councillor Isabelle MacKenzie, said she had closely scrutinised the fresh concept adding that it was "within budget".
Giving little away, she added: "I can see it appealing to the local community. It’s innovative and there are a variety of ways to use it."
The artwork is believed to be static and radically different from the previous offering.
Fellow city councillor Duncan Macpherson said: "The whole thing looks good. I think people who use this walkway regularly will be impressed. It’s enhancing.
"People will be happy with it because they’ve heeded public opinion.
"They’ve taken the key aspects of the best features of the River Ness – its shape, the salmon fishing, the popularity of it. It enhances a current meeting place and it’s a natural walkway.
"It’s a good design, in the right place and way better. It’s a natural ‘gathering place’ unlike the previous design which was very modern. That may go on to be a great success in another city but it wasn’t for Inverness or the location."
A two-day public consultation was held last December at the city’s railway station and in the Eastgate Shopping Centre to gather opinions about the overall riverside arts project to consider "how the river should connect with the people and community of Inverness".
The arts initiative has been plagued by complaints about design and costs.
The council has consistently stressed that the overall £759,000 project, featuring a range of different art installations, is publicly funded but largely through ring-fenced grants.
They were – Creative Scotland (£305,600), the Inverness Common Good Fund (£281,000), the council’s "cities gateway" initiative (£66,000), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£66,000) and a further £40,000 from the council. Backers also emphasised that if Inverness spurned the project the funding would simply go elsewhere in Scotland.
The local authority’s Inverness city manager David Haas said: "It is in development and about to be revealed to the public.
"I’m confident the new proposal will prove a big hit for the city. It fits the brief and will add to the city environment and the amenity of the city and the river, so I’m very excited to see it being put forward for the public to see."
Tilting pier designer Chilean-born architect Karsten Huneck won a contract for a second time after a separate tendering process.
An economic assessment carried out for the council had suggested the "pier" project would have recouped its cost through additional tourism within two years.