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Commissioners Hear New Plan for Vets Memorial

COLUMBUS (Lu Ann Stoia/Kate Liebers) -- As commissioners contemplate a plan to replace the Franklin County Veterans Memorial building, a group of veterans proposed an alternative -- a $50-million renovation.

The Veterans Memorial Board of Trustees officially presented this plan to the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

The commissioners had previously expressed support for a Scioto Peninsula redevelopment plan, which entailed demolishing the 17-acre memorial building and replacing it with a new, five-acre building.

The reduction would make way for an arboretum, an extension of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and 1,200 new housing units. 

Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, the City of Columbus, and other private and public partners presented this plan to commissioners last year.

The group said it would cost an estimated $50 million, half of which would be covered by a private donation by Les Wexner of Limited Brands.
Veterans Trustee Board member Bill Goldman said his group's plan, however, makes more financial sense. Furthermore, he said, it would preserve what veterans consider an iconic building.

"We'd like an opportunity to level the playing field to stop the rush to judgment," Goldman said. "We'd like the opportunity to meet with the (other) group or move forward with the plan we have."

The Vets Memorial has been told to cease operations at the current facility in August 2014. The trustees had originally wanted the county to ask voters to support a levy to keep the building viable.

Goldman said the new plan, however, could be sustained through event-generated revenue and donations instead of a levy.

While Tuesday's meeting was the first time the trustees officially presented an alternative to the demolition, other local veterans have reportedly been involved throughout the plan development.  

"There are veterans on both sides," Commissioner John O'Grady said. "I don't know if one side is more favored than the other."
Commissioner Marilyn Brown said she hoped to get some collaboration going between the two groups.

Plans to demolish the building caused friction with another group earlier this month. The Junior League of Columbus, a volunteer organization, said they would be displaced if they county moved forward with the demolition plans.
The league has been using the facility for its annual Bargain Box rummage sale, the profits of which go toward community projects. The league representatives doubted it could find another venue as large and affordable as the memorial building.

The commissioners said they do not have a timetable for making a decision.

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