It's Saturday afternoon and Heritage Park is deserted, save for a custodian. Three picnic tables sit empty, as does a pockmarked jungle gym. The only sounds are a distant siren and the rustling of the wind in the fronds of the palm trees. Stashed behind the Mormon Fort and the Natural History Museum, Heritage Park seems forgotten. Will anyone care if it's razed to make room for an oversized war memorial? That would be the much-delayed Las Vegas Veterans Memorial, a large-scale tribute to America’s fighting men and women — a war memorial that’s been through a few skirmishes of its own.
The origins of the Veterans Memorial go back to November 2006, when the City of Las Vegas closed Huntridge Park, following a fatal altercation between two homeless men. The next month, gadfly Peter “Chris” Christoff pitched to the City Council that it be converted to a veterans’ memorial. (Much to the disappointment of Kasey Baker, who was behind the park’s whimsical, award-winning 2003 redesign.) Then-Mayor Oscar Goodman and then-Councilman Gary Reese were quickly on board with the idea, while then-Congresswoman Shelley Berkley demurred. In March of 2009, former American Shooters President Michael Millett threw American Shooters’ support behind the memorial, along with that of Performance FORCE Concepts (no longer connected with the project). In three months, four designs — chosen from 200 submissions — were brought before city officialdom. The selection committee, Las Vegas Arts Commission and the city chose the most representational design of the group, by artist Douwe Blumberg. It included 14 larger-than-life military statues representing various American wars. Goodman expressed the hope that it would be ready by Veterans Day, 2011 – excessive optimism, as it turned out: The City Council threw a monkey wrench into Blumberg’s plans when it opted to relocate the memorial to Heritage Park, where it would cover 1.5 acres. This was done to address a lack of parking near Huntridge, as well as other public-access issues.
But since the shift, the waiting game continues. In August 2011, new American Shooters President Mick Catron was targeting February 2014 for completion of the monument. Blumberg thinks the end of 2014 is more likely and Catron representative Scott Tihano says both “We’re on schedule” and “We’re projecting fall/winter of 2015. We’ve got about five [statues] that have been cast,” with three that are at the foundry.
“We are probably halfway done,” says Blumberg. “My original schedule called for it to be complete by the end of summer.” Of course, the park will also have to be landscaped, which is outside Blumberg’s remit. However, he expects some “practical differences” in the overall shape, even though the message will remain the same.
What has never remained the same is the cost. Originally it was posited at $800,000, later settling into the $1.2 million-$1.4 million range. “Part of it is our utter inexperience at fundraising. There is a major learning curve,” says American Shooters Marketing Manager Jeremy Ng. What he thought would be a $2.5 million capital campaign has escalated. “I don’t think anybody is going to call a $5 million fundraising campaign an easy endeavor. We have not done this when there’s not been a recession.”
Tihano allows that fundraising is “certainly slower than we want.” He minimizes the cost – “a little over $5 million” – by saying it includes the value of the land which has been donated to American Shooters (and will, in time, be re-gifted to the City of Las Vegas), plus in-kind donations. He pegs the hard cost as $2.2 million, including a “buffer” for inflation.
A further monkey wrench in the works may be yet another relocation of the monument. “The group that’s putting this together would prefer to have it be directly on Las Vegas Boulevard,” says City Councilman Steve Ross. “We’re not unhappy with the locations that we have,” adds Catron, but he wants higher visibility for the memorial. “There may be some opportunity for site movement.” Indeed, if the Las Vegas 51s relocate to Summerlin, Ross foresees a scenario whereby — as the Cashman Field land is repurposed — the Veterans Memorial migrates to Las Vegas Boulevard. Indeed, the Las Vegas Veterans Memorial is proving to be a moving monument — but perhaps not in the way anybody intended.