Veterans Deserve Memorial and Museum

This past summer, as most all of you are keenly aware, we as Franklin County Commissioners began consideration of how to revitalize the Scioto peninsula, how our prime real estate there would be of most benefit to our residents, and how to best pay honor and tribute to our veterans.

As part of this process, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC), at our request, presented to us a plan that includes demolition of the existing Franklin County Veterans Memorial and, in its footprint, construction of an interactive Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum.

When we received the CDDC’s plan, and since, I wanted to be certain that we were doing the right thing for our veterans, the right thing for our residents, and the right thing for our community. I asked a great many questions, and I wanted to hear what all sides had to say before coming to a decision.

I’ve done those things. I have heard the CDDC’s answers and seen their model. I’ve listened to others, including the Board of Directors of the current Vets Memorial, present alternatives, and I’ve heard from constituents, civilians, businesspeople, and veterans.

I am writing to announce that I am now satisfied that the CDDC’s plan is the right thing to do for many reasons.

Let me address some myths about the current facility and discuss some reasons that the CDDC plan is the best way forward.

Myth: The current Vets Memorial “breaks even” or “is in the black” and could be given a facelift.

Fact: While it is true that the operating budget of the current Vets has been cash-positive for the past two years, prior to that it was not, and it is not expected to be this year. Additionally, this discussion about operational cash flow does not take into account any capital needs of the building. Currently there is more than $3M loaned by the County for capital improvements, and at least another $8M in immediate needs have been deferred. These needs include major changes to accommodate visitors with disabilities, changes in technology, energy efficiency, lighting, HVAC, and other mechanical systems, and abatement of asbestos and PCBs.

Myth: Franklin County will lose events and trade shows if the Vets Memorial exhibition halls are unavailable.

Fact: There are two considerations to point out here. #1, if the current facility were to be maintained, it would be closed for at least two years for the renovations and abatements mentioned above, and these events would have to relocate. #2, Experience Columbus has committed to finding alternate space for every event booked at or considering booking at the current Vets facility. While these alternate venues may differ from Vets in some ways, including nostalgia and sentiment, there is no doubt that our County contains a sufficient number of alternate locations to host these events.

Myth: The County is putting in “millions and millions” of dollars and will be “on the hook” for ongoing support of the facility.

Fact: The County’s total cash investment for construction will be capped at $3M, and we will be responsible for decommissioning the building and for the environmental safeguards necessary to create a clean site. The County will have no ongoing obligations for future funding or subsidy of the Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum. Further, the CDDC has a concrete fundraising strategy with current commitments of more than 50% of the project cost.

Myth: The County will lose ownership of the land, or the CDDC is engaging in a “land grab.”

Fact: We as the Board of Commissioners are committed to always owning the piece of land beneath any memorial or museum and will not enter into any arrangement that would compromise that ownership.

Myth: Losing the existing Vets will dishonor our veterans by removing an important memorial to their service.

Fact: I believe that the one thing that the existing Vets Memorial does least well is serve as a memorial to our veterans or a showcase for their service. The plaques and other important artifacts are displayed in a part of the building seldom seen by the visiting public. No one attending a trade show or an event in the theatre is likely to walk past them.
These important plaques will be returned to their original home – Memorial Hall at 280 E Broad St – along with the offices of the Veterans Services Commission. The space at Memorial Hall is being renovated and designed for the VSC’s return, and special attention placed on truly honoring those who have served by displaying these plaques and other memorabilia in places of prominence and honor.

The Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum will be the cornerstone of a new neighborhood, buoying up COSI, the Columbus Historical Society, and others. This will be a gateway to Franklinton, our original county seat founded by a veteran of the American Revolution, Lucas Sullivant, and critical to America’s victory in the War of 1812 under the command of future President and Ohio senator William Henry Harrison.

The Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum will also have a room dedicated specifically to Franklin County veterans, and meeting space for veterans and community groups, creating two locations on Broad Street, both East and West, where Franklin County veterans’ history will be on display.

Making a decision like this one is never easy, but I do not believe that you elected me and my colleagues to do what is easy. We were sent here as Commissioners to consider what is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Franklin County and the community as a whole. In that light, I am supporting the CDDC’s plan to construct an Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum, and to revitalize the entire Scioto Peninsula.

Published November 26, 2013

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