A prominent international architect who designed the unpopular “tilting pier” is on the shortlist to come up with something else.
Councillors have refused to confirm the “preferred bidder” they opted for at a meeting earlier this week.
But the Press and Journal has learned that a collaboration led by Chilean-born designer Karsten Huneck is in the running for the publicly-funded contract.
His previous ambition was spurned amid a public outcry.
A working group of three councillors backed the recommendation of an independent assessment panel at a private meeting on Tuesday for an alternative to a tilting pier.
The Berlin and London-based collaborative KHBT is understood to be the preferred option but councillors would not confirm that.
Mr Huneck acknowledged being on the shortlist and told the P&J he was awaiting a decision.
No bidder has yet submitted design work or even a concept.
City manager David Haas stressed that the artwork would “not be a reprise of the tilting pier.”
He said: “A recommendation of the panel of independent experts has been made to the working group, which has been agreed. We’re in the process of confirming the contract with the recommended contractor.
“Whilst the artist will be tasked to deliver an ambitious project, they’ll be doing it listening to the community and other stakeholders, and understanding their views on how the river should be valued.”
Mr Haas estimated it would be some weeks before an announcement.
City provost Helen Carmichael was delighted that ring-fenced Scottish agency funding remained available.
Thomas Prag relished the prospect of “something relevant to the river that people want to engage with.”
Graham Ross believed “lessons had been learned” from the council’s experience with the pier proposal.
Bet McAllister was confident the alternative would be “radically different.”
An economic assessment previously carried out for the council suggested the cost of the pier would be recouped, through extra tourism, within two years.
Former Inverness provost Jimmy Gray is reluctant about public money being spent on artworks in the current climate.
“It’s public money and it’s a very difficult time,” he said. “We need to be absolutely sure we know where we’re going and that we’re taking the public with us.”
Fellow city councillor Jean Slater said: “It’s maybe not the right time because of financial restraints.
“The money is, however, ringfenced. So long as they follow the right procedures I’ve no issue with who might get the contract.”