A proposed $2.2 million veterans tribute project planned along the Chippewa River got a boost Wednesday.
The Eau Claire County Board — by a vote of 25-4 — approved a resolution authorizing a donation of $450,000 to the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation.
Supervisors Nancy Coffey, Judy Gatlin, Bert Moritz and Martha Nieman cast the dissenting votes.
The board’s approval was met with applause from the audience, which included several dozen veterans, including former state Sen. Dave Zien, who encouraged supervisors to approve the donation.
“We are talking about a tribute (for the) living,” said Zien, a Vietnam veteran, noting the project will draw tourists and their money to Eau Claire’s downtown.
The $450,000 donation, which is included as a $225,000 capital expenditure in 2019 and 2020, is subject to the following contingencies:
• Evidence of funding of at least $2 million from philanthropy and other private and public sources.
• Evidence of sufficient funding guarantees and reserves to ensure long-term operational sustainability.
• Successful negotiation and approval of funding, development and operational agreements by and between the city of Eau Claire and the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribune Foundation.
• Approval by the city of Eau Claire of all required plans and permits necessary for the construction of the project.
The purpose of the project is to construct a tribute for veterans to conduct ceremonies, honor the American flag, educate youth and remember those who have served from the Chippewa Valley.
The project will be located on property north of Phoenix Park between the Chippewa River and Forest Street. The city of Eau Claire has donated the property and agreed to maintain it, said Jeff Pippenger, the city’s community services director.
The plan is for the park to be built in three phases beginning next spring. The first phase, which includes a trail and mall area, is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.
“This park is about the people and their stories,” said Supervisor Mark Beckfield, president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation. “Eau Claire County has an enormous amount of local war history to remember.”
More than $400,000 has been pledged or raised in donations, Beckfield said. In addition, another $150,000 in architectural, engineering and legal services has been donated.
The remaining cost of the project will be covered by donations, along with the sale of 12-by-12-inch engraved legacy stones and benches that can be purchased by veterans, their families, businesses, civic groups and others. Grant funds also are being pursued.
Like Zien, veteran Richard Freitag encouraged the County Board to approve the donation.
“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Freitag said.
But not everyone agreed. Addressing the board during its public comment portion of the meeting, Liz Spencer said she didn’t see the project as a priority.
Saying she has the utmost respect for veterans, Spencer said, “I feel we should be devoting our limited resources to the living.”
The funds for the donation are capital dollars and can’t be used for operations, said Supervisor Stella Pagonis, chairwoman of the board’s Finance and Budget Committee, which included the donation in the county’s proposed 2019 budget. The board is scheduled to approve the budget during a special meeting on Nov. 20.
Even so, Coffey felt the donation request was a lot.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Supervisor Colleen Bates said. “This isn’t an ongoing expense.”