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Vietnam memorial replica still homeless

CENTRAL POINT — Organizers of a planned $500,000 replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall have withdrawn their application and plan to focus on other potential sites they say would bring less opposition than they got after proposing the 493-foot project for the city's Don Jones Park.

Neighbors of the Hamrick Road park cited traffic and safety concerns, saying that a second memorial, at a park where one war memorial already exists, would overwhelm the park and cause a host of issues for neighbors.

Announced last summer by the Southern Oregon Veterans Benefit, the memorial replica was initially planned for Medford's Veterans Park, near the intersection of South Pacific Highway and Stewart Avenue, but tight space and the layout of the park made the location impractical.

Central Point officials tabled a decision on the project last fall after listening to concerns from residents.

Community Development Director Tom Humphrey announced to City Council that the project had been withdrawn by organizers.

Humphrey said the city's Planning Commission initially delayed a decision to allow applicants a chance to determine whether modifications could be made to assuage concerns. But city officials and project coordinators ultimately agreed another site might be more suitable.

Ron Kohl, president of the Southern Oregon Veterans Benefit, said the group was committed to moving forward in hopes of breaking ground by Veteran's Day this year.

"To maintain the integrity of the wall, we decided to withdraw. I received information from other people not living around Don Jones, and from area businesses through the chamber, that were ecstatically excited about the wall coming there. When they found out that nearby residents were upset with the project, the energy was turning around," Kohl said.

"The wall is the most important thing. That's it for me. So, at that point, I put it to my board and all my members and everybody felt the same way. No matter what location we decide on, I have said all along it is a matter of when we build it, not if."

After withdrawing its application in Central Point, Kohl said, his group sent preliminary proposals to three sites, including the Jackson County Fairgrounds, Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center in White City and the airport in Medford.

Kohl said funds are still needed to construct the wall. Some $25,000 already raised will cover planning documents and preliminary plans once a location is secured.

The projected is estimated to cost $500,000, but organizers face a catch-22, Kohl said. Donors want to know that a location is secured before donating, while approval of a permanent site could ultimately hinge on funding already being in place.

"We're trying to get everything in place to get approval, so trying to make it all happen at once is tricky, but we will make it happen," Kohl said.

A former drill sergeant who boasts 50 years experience between law enforcement and the military, Kohl said the local wall would be the only one on the West Coast.

"It will be a healing source for residents who are in 'the Dom,' and it would give people a source of pride," he said.

"This is a very important project to a lot of people, and we are committed to making sure that it becomes a reality."

To learn more about the project, call 541-778-3171 or see www.sovb.org.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.