Tempe is designing the first element of a memorial to veterans that its supporters say is among the most ambitious monuments of its kind in the nation.
The $2.1 million memorial will include 80 metal silhouette panels that represent soldiers of each service through U.S. history. While Arizona has monuments to specific military conflicts, this is likely the only one dedicated to every group of the nation’s veterans, said David Lucier, president of the Tempe Veterans Foundation.
The foundation will raise most of the funding and expects to draw interest locally and nationally because of the monument’s scale, Lucier said.
“I’m a little biased, but I think it’s an easy claim that this will be the finest veterans memorial outside of Washington, D.C.,” Lucier said.
The memorial project at Tempe Beach Park will include restoration of the Ash Avenue Bridge, which is fenced off and deteriorating. The bridge’s top will become a new overview of the Tempe Town Lake, while the inside will eventually become an enclosed museum or visitors center. A large plaza will eventually round out the memorial.
The first phase includes restoring the bridge and creating a walkway between the elevation changes.
Tempe approved about $79,000 last month to design that phase, and the foundation will kick off fundraising efforts in January for the roughly $400,000 project.
The timeline for completing two other phases depends upon the pace of fundraising. Tempe will contribute about $500,000 to the various phases.
The park is already home to the city’s Veterans Day Parade and the Healing Field display, which includes 3,000 flags to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The memorial field will attract visitors who just want to see it but also those who are already at Tempe Beach Park for other events or features, said Nancy Ryan, Rio Salado manager. She figures it could draw 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a year or more.
The reuse of the bridge and the memorial’s placement within a park is part of Tempe’s strategy of triangulation within open spaces, Ryan said.
“You find three or more things to do in one location and then you keep building,” she said. “You come for one thing and you stay for another. Those types of opportunities bring people back again and again.”
The memorial has been planned for years. The city considered a 32-foot tall metal monument to veterans at College Avenue and Veterans Way, a street that was renamed in anticipation of locating the feature there. But the city searched for a new site in 2006, after concerns over noise from an adjacent transit station. Also, the Gila River Indian Community objected because the memorial would have been at the base of Hayden Butte, which the tribe has considered sacred for centuries.
Lucier said years of proposals for a memorial never led to consensus from supporters, but that the current plan clicked with about 30 community members involved.
“I don’t think that had happened before,” Lucier said.
The bridge improvements will restore a rich piece of Valley history. The Ash Avenue Bridge was begun in 1911, with labor from the Arizona Territorial Prison. It opened in 1913 as the first major highway bridge across the Salt River, but the narrow span was immediately obsolete because it was designed for wagons more than for autos. The bridge last carried vehicles in 1931, when the Mill Avenue Bridge opened. A flood seriously damaged a span of the Ash bridge in 1916, and it was demolished in 1991 because of the cost of repairing the bridge. The remains are on the National Register of Historic Places.