Every so often, a plan arises to give San Diego an iconic something — a hall, a building, a giant sculpture, something — to put it on the map with the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the St. Louis arch.

Here’s the latest one. The Unified Port of San Diego is weighing a proposal to build a 500-foot sculpture resembling sails or wings on the downtown waterfront. A story about the proposal in yesterday’s Union-Tribune has a lot of people fired up. As of 9:30 a.m. today, the U-T’s poll shows opinion nearly equally split, with 786 voting in favor of the sculpture and 805 voting against it.

The sculpture is part of a $68 million plan for developing the Navy Pier next to the USS Midway Museum.

Officials hope the San Diego Symphony could move its summer concerts to the pier. Their plan adds a level of parking, a five-acre “Veterans Park” atop that parking structure and the sculpture.

Museum officials originally wanted to have a theater with a retractable roof on the site, reminiscent of Sydney’s Opera House, the U-T reported. But that would cost $40 million more and require an ongoing “operating subsidy” — the story doesn’t say from what source.

So instead, sculptor Malcolm Leland drew up plans for these sail-like sculptures made from titanium and steel, working with the plan’s architect and with local leader Malin Burnham.

One of the most staggering numbers in the plan is this, from the plan’s fact sheet:

A confirmed pledge of $35 million from entrepreneur and philanthropist Denny Sanford to underwrite the iconic architectural element.

Sanford has given millions to research programs at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, headquartered in La Jolla. The South Dakota businessman was named the third most generous philanthropist in 2010 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s survey published earlier this year. The businessman told the U-T last year he intends to “die broke.”

The plan has whipped up a conversation around San Diego. Here are a few comments I found interesting:

On our Facebook page, Lizbeth Persons Price wishes local philanthropic pushes could just take on one thing at a time. Proponents of the under-construction new central library still had more than $25 million left to raise as of last month.

I’m a huge fan of public art, but could we please have a new central library first? Maybe Denny Sanford could help us out with that.

Here are a few of the comments made on Twitter about the plan yesterday and today:

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San Diego reacts to a proposal to develop the Navy Pier adjacent to the Midway museum with a 500-foot sculpture resembling wings or sails. You can see the proposal at http://www.veteransparknavypier.com.

San Diego reacts to a proposal to develop the Navy Pier adjacent to the Midway museum with a 500-foot sculpture resembling wings or sails. You can see the proposal at http://www.veteransparknavypier.com.

http://storify.com/kellyrbennett/what-do-you-think-of-the-proposed-sculpture-on-the-downtown-waterfront-.js” type=”text/javascript”>

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San Diego reacts to a proposal to develop the Navy Pier adjacent to the Midway museum with a 500-foot sculpture resembling wings or sails. You can see the proposal at http://www.veteransparknavypier.com.

San Diego reacts to a proposal to develop the Navy Pier adjacent to the Midway museum with a 500-foot sculpture resembling wings or sails. You can see the proposal at http://www.veteransparknavypier.com.

http://storify.com/kellyrbennett/what-do-you-think-of-the-proposed-sculpture-on-the-downtown-waterfront-” target=”_blank”&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;View the story “Proposed sculpture on downtown San Diego waterfront” on Storify&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;]

And here’s some more of the buzz over the design of the sculpture. One popular comment under the U-T’s story comes from Scott Krause:

Ridiculous. Hideous. Pointless. First off, absurd claim that these goofy “wings” would “match” the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or even the St. Louis Arch.

But regardless of that observation, why not spend the 68million on human beings who are currently out of work, children living below the poverty line, real people in need of real assistance……wouldn’t that be a more relevant and lasting expression of the character and values of this community?

Richard Gleaves, whose devotion to local public art we’ve written about, thinks anything like this needs more space:

The Sydney Opera House, St. Louis arch, and Eiffel Tower all have one thing in common: the lack of an aircraft carrier parked next to them. (The artist’s rendering craftily acknowledges this by applying visual stealth technology to minimize the 972-foot U.S.S. Midway.)

Public art at this scale demands a large amount of breathing room around it. So, port commissioners: the wings or the boat. Take your pick.

Also on the U-T comments, reader Kathy Cunningham supported the plan:

The sculpture is beautiful and enhances the bay view…nothing ever gets done in SD because so many people have negative opinions on just about everything..it’s a shame.

Joe Storms said, “I like the ambition. I hate the design.”

Also on our Facebook pages, arts maven Susan Myrland admonishes us not to judge the plan before we see more conceptual drawings. “I hope the Port does a public outreach program similar to their bridge lighting project, so that people can get an accurate sense of scale and impact,” she wrote. But later in the day, she called the project “bunny ears.”

Here are the details for the “town hall discussions” the museum will hold before returning to the port commissioners on Dec. 13 with a summary of what residents think.

All meetings are in the port’s training room at 3165 Pacific Highway.

• Nov. 29, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

• Dec. 6, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

• Dec. 10, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

You can see more of the project at VeteransParkNavyPier.com.

Meanwhile, tell us: What do you think of the plan? Leave a comment below or on Facebook.

(Some of the comments above have been lightly edited for readability.)

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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