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Vietnam Wall replica gets nod

A replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall may finally have a home in the Rogue Valley.

Medford Parks and Recreation Commission recommended the city enter into a 25-year lease agreement with Southern Oregon Veterans Benefits, allowing the group to erect a scaled version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall on 2.1 acres at US Cellular Community Park.

If City Council approves, local veterans will at long last have a site for the memorial wall after failing in attempts to place it at Veterans Park in Medford and multiple sites in Central Point in recent years.

The matter will go before the council July 7, the same date country music legend Kenny Rogers appears at Lithia Motors Amphitheatre at the Expo in a benefit concert for the wall project.

"That's going to be a glorious day," said SOVB point man Ron Kohl, who served in the Air Force and Army but not in Vietnam. "If everything comes to fruition, we can begin putting things together and start moving forward."

The memorial's proposed location is between Lowry Lane, which loops through the park, and Bear Creek Greenway, across the street from Coyote Trails Nature Center.

The project took a circuitous route before being proposed for the banks of Bear Creek.

In 2014, backers proposed placing the replica wall in Medford's Veterans Park, near the intersection of Highway 99 and Stewart Avenue. But the sheer length of the wall led SOVB to Central Point and Don Jones Memorial Park. Although the project drew support from the city, neighbors of the park on Hamrick Road complained the memorial would overwhelm the park and created traffic and safety issues.

The fairgrounds, Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center in White City and Medford airport were considered as possible sites before Kohl approached the parks staff this year.

"We looked at all these places, and the wall just wouldn't sit right. The location has to fit the wall."

The latest site being proposed is just upstream from where it started.

"The pitch was the same as before, and we provided them some options for different parks," said Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun.

US Cellular's master plan called for a picnic pavilion on the site, but Sjothun said the commission thought the wall was a better use for the parcel.

The proposed lease is for $1 annually for a renewable 25-year period. The SOVB will be responsible for construction, land-use planning and maintenance.

The wall will cost $300,000, with collateral elements such as trees, benches and site work adding another $200,000.

Kohl expects fundraising, including in-kind donations, to accelerate following the deal.

"People are willing to make donations," he said, "but they all have the same question, 'Where's it going to be?'

"It's going to be here, now let's get started."

To reach Kohl, email ron@sovbmemorialwall.com or call 541-500-1274.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.