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The Sacramento Convention Center is under construction on Monday, March 8, 2021 in Sacramento.

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The Sacramento airport has its leaping red rabbit. The plaza at Golden One Center has its colorful Piglet. Now, the convention center downtown is about to get its own out-sized public art statement.

It’s a 34-foot tall steel, fiberglass and concrete rocket ship sculpture, with shooting bronze flames and billowing smoke below, seemingly taking off from the downtown sidewalk. It’s nearly twice as tall as Piglet, and arguably cooler. It won’t get lost in the crowd.

The piece, entitled “We Have Lift Off,” will be the signature artwork at the corner of 13th and J streets for the newly expanded SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. The convention center has been undergoing a major expansion and remodeling the past two years and is scheduled to reopen in May.

The rocket ship will offer what its creators say is a reflection of California optimism and an appreciation for science. It’s also a statement that the state’s capital city is taking off economically and culturally.

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The City of Sacramento is commissioning a 34-foot-tall sculpture of a rocket ship blasting off by artists and brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre, to be placed at the corner of 13th and J streets as the signature public art piece for the new convention center expansion project. de la Torre Brothers

At night, interior lights shining through perforations in the fuselage will create an ever-changing light show on the walls of the convention center.

The artists and city say they are aiming to create an iconic Instagram locale downtown, reminiscent of Chicago’s Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean.”

But it’s not going to be a sleek, modern rocket. Instead, the piece will be whimsical, like out of a comic book. Or in the artists’ words, it’s “retro.”

Artist brothers Einer and Jamex De La Torre of San Diego, who are Mexican immigrants and were children of the 1960s, have drawn up a torpedo-like vision of what modern science looked like in many minds’ eyes in the ’50s and ’60s when California still felt young and when science held an exciting Jetsons-like promise of a better future.

“The idea is to bring back that optimism,” Jamex De La Torre said. “Not a blind faith in science. But that science is key to saving the world, the environment.”

The city is expected to sign a $750,000 contract with the De La Torres this week, which will launch construction of the piece. Sacramento arts executive Lennee Eller said the piece will not be in place until the fall, likely in October.

The price tag is about the same cost as Sacramento International Airport’s now iconic red rabbit, entitled “Leap,” designed by the late artist Lawrence Argent. It’s far less expensive than the $8 million price tag (mostly privately financed) for the Jeff Koons’ Piglet sculpture, formally known as “Coloring Book #4.”

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The retro rocket ship sculpture proposed for the Sacramento convention center renovation will have a fuselage perforated with floral shapes that will allow interior lights to cast moving shadows on the walls of the building. de la Torre Brothers Inc.

The rocket sculpture captures a particular moment that many people who have watched rocket launches are familiar with: the instant when a rocket has just lifted off the ground amid roaring flames and billowing smoke, but appears to be still hovering, barely moving, as if laboring to get going, before it quickly gains speed and jets off.

“There is that pregnant pause,” Einar De La Torre says. “The rocket is lifting off, but seems to be still sitting there. There is something magical about that moment.”

Inside the new artwork

The brothers hope the piece will delight children and bring out the child in adults. They’ve put portholes on the spaceship to give viewers a sense that they could be sitting in the ship.

The fuselage skin is perforated in the shapes of flowers, allowing lights inside the rocket to throw moving patterns onto the four-story walls of the adjacent convention center.

The art project is part of the city’s ongoing Arts In Public Places program, which requires a fraction of large public project budgets to be spent on art.

The Sacramento Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy Commission chose the brothers and their design as well as a handful of other pieces – some by Sacramento artists and all by California artists – to be included in what the city is calling the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District, which includes the currently under construction performing arts center next door and the recently remodeled Memorial Auditorium nearby.

The project has run into hurdles during COVID-19, slowing construction progress and causing financing issues due to a lack of hotel tax revenues to fund the construction, resulting from far fewer hotel patrons over the past year.

In addition to giving the city the go-ahead to sign a deal with the De La Torres, the City Council on Tuesday is expected to authorize the city manager to back fill the 2020-21 construction budget with $13 million from other transit-occupancy tax bonds.

The $245 million project is funding by bond sales backed by future transient occupancy taxes, also known as hotel taxes. The city had projected it would get $28 million in hotel tax revenues over the last year, but only about half of that amount came in.

To cover the costs this year, the city is expected to dip into several contingency accounts. City finance officials said the hotel tax picture next year remains uncertain, and will depend on whether the city and county make enough progress on reducing virus cases.

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.

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