Commissioners OK Demolition Of Vets Memorial

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Franklin County Commissioners passed a resolution to approve a contract with the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. The contract calls for demolition of Vets Memorial.
Franklin County Commissioners passed a resolution to approve a contract with the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. The contract calls for demolition of Vets Memorial.

Franklin County Commissioners have cleared the way for demolition of Vet’s Memorial. It’s part of a project to spruce up the west side of the Scioto River. But some veterans are not happy, and at least one group may still try to stop it.

County Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation to tear down Vets Memorial.

Plans call for the construction of a new Vets Memorial –but no arena – and an “interactive” museum. Veterans services offices in the memorial would move to the county’s building on East Broad Street, the original veterans memorial hall.

Even though commissioners announced they support the demolition plan, Veterans opposed to the plan made one final pitch to delay the vote.

“To come to meetings like this one where commissioners had pre-made up their minds is not open dialogue. It’s just not fair,” William Goldman said.

Goldman sits on the Franklin County Vets Memorial Board of Trustees.

This August, the trustees announced they wanted to give the nearly 60-year-old building a facelift and expand it. But Goldman said their plan was never given serious consideration.

“We have never been given the opportunity to really air it publicly.”

Overall, the vet’ project would have cost about $100 million, compared to $3 million the county would expend on the CDDC project.

Vets Memorial has been losing money for years, and County commissioners asked the trustees to come up with their own renovation proposal about five years ago.

Commissioner John O’Grady said the veteran’s plan was too expensive, and it was unclear where the money would come from. He said at one time veterans proposed a property tax levy.

“Then he came here a couple of weeks ago and said they were going to raise that money privately,” O’Grady said. “It’s an unworkable plan with a bad business plan and I’d have a hard time supporting it if there was no CDDC plan.”

Vets worry the new East Broad Street facility is too small, especially for large events like the Homeless Veterans Stand Down where hundreds of veterans receive medical, legal and other social services.

Veteran John Dreska, who opposes the plan, told commissioners veterans have been “relegated to a closet.”

But Retired U.S. Army Major General Dennis Laich, who supports a new memorial and museum, said it’s time for a vets facility that offers more educational and interactive exhibits.

“It allows us to communicate to the broader community the current state of the military and encourages young people to serve in our military going forward,” Laich said.

Commissioner O’Grady said they’ll meet veterans’ needs. He said they’ve identified new venues for some events now held at the Vets Memorial.

“There are many, many options. You just have to work through some of the issues that come along with all those options. Some of them will be perfect space, perfect cost, some of them there will be issues and we’ll have to figure it out and work through those issues.”

In addition to the new Memorial and “interactive” museum, the plan calls for a park, an amphitheater, a small zoo, retail shops and apartments.

The Franklin County American Legion may try to stop the project by taking it to voters.

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