Campaign to move Confederate statue meets fundraising goal

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One day after Hillsborough County commissioners opened the door to leaving a controversial Confederate memorial in place, several members of the Tampa Bay business community are hoping that door is closed for good.

Two major donations -- totaling $120,000 -- came in Thursday afternoon, putting over the top the fundraising effort to move the statue. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce kicked in $70,000, while $50,000 came from investor Bob Gries.

"I was embarrassed to some degree that Tampa Bay would be cast in a negative spotlight and I just thought, 'What can I do to help change this?'" Gries said during a joint news conference with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The donations poured in less than 24 hours after county commissioners voted 4 to 2 to have the transfer of the monument funded in part by private donations that needed to total $140,000, or roughly half the total cost.

The first big name to donate was Mayor Buckhorn, who tweeted a photo of a personal $1,000 check that he wrote. As the day progressed, former Bucs coach Tony Dungy announced he would donate $5,000, while the Bucs, Lightning and Rays all said they would also add to the pot.

By late in the afternoon, the total money promised had reached about $160,000, exceeding the necessary amount.

Buckhorn, however, was still fuming at commissioners for putting the financial responsibility on the private sector.

"I'm disappointed in the county commission. I'm saddened they don't recognize the potential impact this has on our community," he said. "I am angry. We've got a lot of great things going on in this city. We've made so much progress over the last six, seven years. If they don't understand the negative impacts this will have for corporate relocations, for potential Super Bowls, for potential conventions, economic development efforts, they're fools."

Commissioner Victor Crist spearheaded the motion Wednesday to halt the statue's removal until the funds had been raised. The community was given a 30-day deadline to do so.

Crist was not immediately available for comment.

The next morning, protesters unhappy with the commission's decision rallied at the base of the monument to voice their displeasure.

"I am appalled that in 2017, 45 years later, we're discussing this," said long-time Hillsborough County activist Chloe Coney. "This monument stands for hatred, bigotry."

Moments into the demonstration, an American-flag-bearing counter-protestor arrived. There was no violence, just several heated exchanges, a few of which were broken up by police.

"I'm showing my [discontent] for this movement that's sweeping across America," said the counter-protestor, who went only by the name 'Gary.' "After the Confederate monuments, what are they going to move on to?"

The fundraising efforts put the ball back in the court of the county commission, which had initially planned to move the statue to a private cemetery in Brandon by September at the earliest.