The Salt Lake Engineering Department halted a project Monday that was intended to beautify a crosswalk on Pierpont Avenue.

Construction is on hold - at least until spring - because of a dispute with artists over legal liability if someone is hurt at the crosswalk.The crosswalk and its environs are to be a work of art, with a park-like atmosphere defined by a fountain, benches and inscribed poetry. The project is to be financed through a 1 percent set-aside in city construction costs, the "Percent for the Arts Program."

The Salt Lake sculptors who designed it - Tom Tessman and Stephen A. Goldsmith - say the city's contract is unfair because it would require them to assume a never-ending responsibility for safety at the crosswalk.

But project engineer Mark Morrison of the city engineer's office said the city has no interest in buying only an artist's aesthetic sensitivity for the designs.

The city also expects the artists to be confident enough about their work to sign the contract and its indemnity clause. They might have to consult with safety experts, Morrison said.

Tessman, whose sculpture, "Yggdrsil," won a special jurors' choice cash award at the "Utah '88" exhibition that closed Sunday in the Salt Lake Art Center, said no artist should sign such an agreement.

"The contract makes me liable for the rest of my life for anything that ever happens on the project," he said.

A meeting Monday among the parties and their lawyers, held in offices of the engineering department, 444 S. State, ended in an impasse. At that point, the city decided to halt the art portion for now.

By spring, the dispute may be resolved, they said.

Chuck Loving, chairman of the Salt Lake City Art Design Board, said he does not feel the board can recommend any artists for city arts projects if the liability problem isn't resolved.

Morrison said the crosswalk is part of a $530,000 curb, gutter and sidewalk improvement project on Pierpont Avenue between West Temple and Second West. While the art portion is on hold, the rest of the reconstruction will continue.

Artists have worked with the contractor, Lowell Construction Co., and foundations for their project have been installed.

The city seems to be "asking these artists to agree to something which is going to kill the whole Percent for the Arts Program," said Chris Wangsgard, a lawyer who represented Tessman at the meeting. "The problem with it is that it hurts the artists without helping the city."

Assuming that a suit was filed because some "drunken yuppie" tripped and hurt his head on the bench, he said, Tessman and Goldsmith "are being asked to start paying the city's attorney's fees from the first moment that that person files the lawsuit."

Facing high legal costs, the artists could face bankruptcy. That still would leave the city with liability as the next responsible party, he said.

If the policy doesn't change, he said, no artist would want to work on a Percent for Arts Project without purchasing a costly insurance policy.

But the payment artists receive may not

ay for such a policy, he said.

A potential solution broached in the meeting was that the contractor could pay the artists, who would be treated as subcontractors.

But contractor Bob Smith said, "I do not want to accept responsibility for the design. I'm willing to take responsibility for the carrying out of the work, which is my job." If he could get a set of approved plans for the project, he'd be glad to go ahead with it.

City planner Bob Gore said he has seen some of Tessman's designs, and "they're just beautiful . . . It's going to be a great addition to the city."

But he added, "If you don't want the contract, don't sign it and don't do the work."

With non-art projects, the City Engineering Department typically does the design work. Once the designs are approved, the contractor is protected as long as he follows them.