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In Long Beach, she wants a statue of expectations

An entrepreneur's West Coast `bookend' to Lady Liberty is envisioned as a tourist magnet and a beacon for thinkers.

April 01, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Among the towering cranes and the Queen Mary's red smokestacks at the tip of Long Beach lives Karen Tyler Barnes' gigantic daydream.

For seven years, the entrepreneur has labored to realize her fanciful 333-foot-high vision, which she's dubbed the "Monument to Humanity."

Twice as tall as Niagara Falls, the so-called West Coast bookend to the Statue of Liberty would serve as a cross-cultural icon and tourist magnet next to the Port of Long Beach, with an attached think tank tackling some of humankind's most pressing problems.

"I think this is a project whose time has come," said Barnes, founder of Financial News Network, which later merged to become CNBC. "Look at what's happening in the world. We keep putting Band-Aids on things: poverty, hunger, homelessness, education.... We need to find solutions to problems outside of war and violence."

The undertaking's estimated cost: $250 million.

With a missionary's zeal, Barnes cites psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama as inspirations for the monument.

Renderings of the statue show a transparent globe supported by four bronze pan-racial figures -- two men and two women, representing all ethnicities -- atop a steel tower. The sculpture symbolizes people's collective responsibility to "embrace the planet," Barnes said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Port statue: An article in Sunday's California section about a proposed "Monument to Humanity" that would be built in Long Beach listed project leader Karen Tyler Barnes as founder of Financial News Network. She was co-founder of the network, which later merged with CNBC.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Port statue: An article in the April 1 California section about a proposed "Monument to Humanity" that would be built in Long Beach listed project leader Karen Tyler Barnes as founder of Financial News Network. She was co-founder of the network, which later merged with CNBC.

The monument could include a museum of human history, a broadcast network, a train to transport visitors from parking structures, and a "peace academy" for area schoolchildren, Barnes said. There are also plans for ecological research gardens, a 250-foot observation deck and a virtual-reality experience.

Two major sticking points: Barnes hasn't raised the money for the statue or zeroed in on an exact location for it. She's hoping for land near the Queen Mary that is now tied up in other negotiations.

To create the statue, the think tank and the attractions surrounding them, Barnes has recruited architects, sculptors, academics, environmental consultants, corporate managers and political allies, and is working on donors. She said she and her husband have sunk hundreds of thousands of their own money into the nonprofit project.

Barnes, who runs her own production and consulting company, is initially seeking corporate and community money rather than public funds; she's raised a few thousand dollars so far. Long Beach officials were initially skeptical of the project, especially its expense, said City Councilman Val Lerch.

These days, Lerch said, they welcome the idea of creating an attraction on the city's waterfront with an educational component, but they're not quite ready to fork over taxpayer dollars.

"I think its goals are excellent," Lerch said. "The only thing I'm concerned about is where the funding comes from. It's a lot of money.

"If they want $200 million from the city of Long Beach, it all of a sudden becomes a bad concept."

A Monument to Humanity "has tremendous potential to be a landmark for the city of Long Beach and the entire West Coast," said Bonnie Lowenthal, a city councilwoman and vice mayor.

"The concept is beautiful," Lowenthal said, adding that it's "way too early to tell" what role, if any, the city might play in the venture. Barnes estimates the complex could bring $500 million to the region each year.

Barnes' enthusiasm for her brainchild is helping her attract support. To head youth outreach efforts, the veteran television broadcaster has assembled a multi-ethnic team of distinguished fundraisers, managers, executives and others, including actress Linda Gray of "Dallas" fame. Several Long Beach and Los Angeles city and county officials have written laudatory letters of support; Long Beach City Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, whose district includes the proposed monument site, described the project in a letter to Barnes as a "beacon of progressiveness."

Other backers include former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, actor Edward James Olmos and Dr. Robert Muller, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and now chancellor emeritus of the U.N.'s University for Peace in Costa Rica.

To hear Barnes tell it, the five-acre landmark will spark civic engagement, educate children and draw visitors from around the world. Long Beach was a natural fit, she said, because of its diversity and because its port serves as a natural point of entry.

The monument's visibility as a cultural beacon would help researchers disseminate their findings on such problems as global warming and overpopulation to visitors, governments and corporations, Barnes said. The center would also generate what Barnes calls a "Planet Index," with rankings for such quality-of-life indicators as food supplies, human rights and pollution.

The center would assemble "a fresh group of the great thinkers around the planet," said Gunnar Keel, special-projects director with the monument effort.

Despite logistical uncertainties, Barnes hopes to have the statue built within three years. She plans to have most of the funding in hand before ground is broken.

Though a towering globe with an idealistic mission might induce visitors to spend their money in town, there are "a lot of big hurdles to overcome before the project could begin," said Byron Schweigert, chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Barnes said she's reaching out to the Pacific Rim Chamber of Commerce and other international groups to secure funding and create partnerships.

"Really, the goal would be to make Long Beach the poster city of the nation," she said.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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