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Memorial 'Groundbreaking' OKd

Council approves symbolic event next month despite concerns about site of Vietnam War statue and kiosk.


Although several City Council members say they are unsure about having a Vietnam War memorial statue and information kiosk at the Civic Center, a "symbolic groundbreaking" ceremony in the center's garden court area on April 29 has been given the green light.

At the council's meeting Tuesday evening, the discussion began with comments about the groundbreaking but then became a debate about whether it was appropriate for the memorial to be on city property. The 4-1 vote to OK the event came after nearly three hours of discussion, including statements by veterans in favor of the project and several residents in opposition.

Vietnam War Memorial Committee spokeswoman Joey Porter said the groundbreaking next month is designed to be a media event to energize fund-raising efforts.

The council gave its approval last year for a 15-foot-tall monument portraying an American soldier and a South Vietnamese soldier to be placed on city property. Council members and some residents have expressed concerns that the memorial may become a focal point for demonstrations.

"There does not appear to be a consensus in our community," Councilman Kermit Marsh said. "While it appears the bulk of the people are for the statue, they are not for the [proposed Civic Center] site."

Before voting on the groundbreaking, Marsh complained that the memorial committee did not provide the council with a requested environmental impact report. He also warned that the city could appear to be endorsing a private project on city property.

The committee, which is privately funded and led by Mayor Frank Fry Jr., has raised more than $270,000 for the project. Marsh said he would like to know that all of the $500,000 needed is in place before deciding on a site. The $270,000 the committee has is enough to pay for just the statue. Additional funds are needed for the information kiosk, support structure and surrounding area.

The Civic Center complex includes City Hall, the police station, the community center, the courthouse, a courtyard and gardens. During public comment Tuesday, some voiced concerns that the groundbreaking event would give the impression that the Civic Center has already been chosen as the memorial site.

Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer, who voted against having the event at the Civic Center, said she would have approved of the groundbreaking had it been on city property across from the center on Monroe Street. A cultural arts building is planned for the vacant lot.

Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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