New Plan For Vets Memorial: Renovate And Expand?

Artist's rendering of the redesigned veteran's memorial(Photo: Vets Memorial)
Artist's rendering of the redesigned veteran's memorial(Photo: Vets Memorial)

On Tuesday Franklin County commissioners heard a new proposal for Veterans Memorial. Rather than demolish the structure, this new plan would substantially renovate and expand the facility. Though proponents say they have substantial support from veterans, two of the three commissioners seemed skeptical of the idea.

Earlier this year, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation – the CDDC – proposed tearing down the nearly 60-year-old complex and building a smaller memorial to replace it.

The current 3,900 seat theater would be replaced with an amphitheater. Most office space for veterans’ services would be eliminated. But that plan did not sit well with the board that oversees Vets Memorial. Board members went before the Franklin County Commission to ask instead for an expanded and renovated building.

Their proposal, says board member Robert Thurman, enjoys widespread support.

“The Korean War Veterans are in support of our plan; the Catholic War Veterans; the Vietnam Veterans Association is in favor of our plan,” Thurman said.

The new plan might cost twice the estimated $50 million for the CDDC’s completely rebuilt and downsized memorial. That’s one reason says memorial board member Bill Goldman, that Vets should remain a revenue-generating venue.

“How do we honor our veterans and let’s do it by building a new facility. We believe that that’s not necessary; and in fact if a pure memorial is built, it will cost this community a fortune.

Commissioner Marilyn Brown wanted to know why some veterans wanted to keep the present building while others, particularly those who worked with the CDDC, were in favor of a new facility.

“How is it that one group of the veterans are advocating very much for the CDDC’s plan and not what you’re…?”

Bill Goldman responded:

“We never had a seat at that table. And I attended one meeting and the alternative that was given to the veterans that were appointed to that board was let’s build a new facility that memorializes veterans. Had we had a seat at that table we believe that we could have presented at least an alternative to tearing it down.”

Brown later asked for more substantive financial information concerning the renovation.

After the meeting was over, John O’Grady did not seem swayed by the Veterans Memorial Board proposal.

“This plan is a lot more convoluted; there’s a lot more questions to be answered including where will all this money come from? This is a very, very financially ambitious plan at a time when there’s a lot of other things that are out there. We’ll have to see how that goes,” O’Grady said.

O’Grady did suggest that he was leaning toward the CDDC proposal.

“The CDDC plan that’s been presented; there’s been a lot of thought, time, effort that’s been put into it. It certainly doesn’t come with the expense or cost that the Vets Memorial Board’s plan does. But we still have a lot of questions about the CDDC plan so we will, as we move forward and those questions are answered, if they’re answered to our satisfaction then we will probably — we could very easily move forward with that plan sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Several members of the public who attended the meeting said they were in favor of saving the old memorial. Jack Steinhausser is a veteran from Gahanna.

“This ought to come up for public voting not just a few select people giving their opinion. Let’s vote for it. The veterans are not getting a clean shake here,” Steinhausser.

Steinhausser was incensed that the fate of Vets Memorial lay in the hands of so few people.

“I think they should put it out here and let the veterans – that’s their building. It’s not for people to build condos on it. It was for the veterans of the state of Ohio and [the] Columbus metropolitan area; not just for a few people to dictate to us what they want to do,” Steinhausser said.

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