Octagon up for public discussion

Sunday, July 8, 2007

On a summer afternoon in the Common Pleas Courthouse Park, the splashing of water in the fountain memorializing Union soldiers from the Civil War competes with the whine of a lawn mower. The lush grass cushions footsteps under trees towering above the two-story historic structure.

For Jim Carver, it is a perfect place to honor the men and women who sacrificed their time and gave sons to defend the nation. He sees plans for three marble monoliths and a brick octagon as a fitting addition to the setting, enhancing the centrally located park, not detracting from its beauty.

"It is a place of reflection," said Carver, monuments chairman for VietNow, the group that erected the Vietnam War memorial at the courthouse last year. "I see a lot of young men and women walking through and remembering what their fathers and grandfathers did."

But others in the community don't share that vision. They think the proposal would consume too much of the lawn and create a clutter of monuments that would detract from the view of the fountain, the courthouse and the park.

"My concern personally and for our organization is we just evaluate this, because the plans take up quite a bit of space," said Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape.

The question will be hashed out at noon Thursday at the Osage Community Centre when a public meeting will be held to hear comments, counterproposals and arguments in favor of the original proposal.

The set of memorials -- an "Octagon of Honor" commemorating mothers of soldiers and sailors, with accompanying World War I, World War II and Korean War monuments -- would take up almost 1,500 square feet of lawn space. The octagon itself would take up most of that space, and it would be about 30 feet from the fountain and nearly 85 feet from the gazebo.

The lawn's most intensive use comes each spring and fall when Old Town Cape puts on the Tunes at Twilight festival featuring touring musical acts. Each Friday night during the festival, hundreds of residents bring lawn chairs and picnic on the grass.

The Thursday meeting was called by Dan Muser, director of the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department.

Last month, the Cape Girardeau County Commission declined a request by VietNow to place the World War I memorial during the July 4 festivities, angering Carver. A group of prominent downtown business owners and others interested in historic preservation had written a letter to the commissioners questioning the choice of location and the lack of public discussion of the proposal.

The county leases the courthouse and park from the city, and Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and Commissioner Larry Bock decided they wanted a formal approval of the proposal from the city before they agreed to the placement. Commissioner Jay Purcell was absent from that meeting.

Muser could not be reached for comment. But Mike Keith, chairman of the city's Parks Advisory Board, said he wasn't informed of or asked to attend Thursday's meeting.

In fact, Keith said he's received no information at all about the memorial plan. "They haven't come to the park board and made any presentation to us. I know nothing about it. I don't even know if the Common Pleas Courthouse is considered part of our park board or what," he said.

For Mills, the meeting Thursday will be a chance for those opposing the courthouse plan to propose alternatives. "I think there is a better place," she said. "We don't have a lot of green spaces in the downtown area. I will be disappointed if that is where everyone says it should be."

For Carver, the meeting will be the chance to tell what he views as a small group of people with pull that the ordinary veteran supports the idea and won't agree to another site.

"They want more public opinion, and they are going to get it," Carver said. "I work for a living, but there are some people who have positions and make decisions and we are going to address that. The veterans of this community are fed up, as well as some other citizens."

The reaction to the Vietnam memorial should show that he's right, Carver said. Small mementos -- flags, flowers and other items -- are placed there regularly.

"Have you ever seen a grown man kneel down and cry?" Carver said. "You see him kneel and you know how we are helping. We are helping the veterans and the children of veterans remember."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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