The Indiana National Guard wants to build a downtown monument to commemorate its centuries of history. But concerns over
design threaten to derail the $2.5 million proposal before it gets off the drawing board.
"There's a lot of work that has to be done before this thing turns into reality," said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, commander of the Indiana National Guard. "I want this done right."
In November, the Guard submitted an application for the monument to the Indiana Department of Natural Resource's Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Using private donations, the Guard proposes erecting a permanent tribute in University Park, within sight of the Indiana World War Memorial.
Designed pro bono by locally based RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects, the monument would feature 8-foot walls in a "U" shape. The interior sides of the walls and the pavement below would feature displays detailing the Guard's history since its earliest days as a militia in 1636. The monument also would include a pair of Minutemen statues and a semicircular lecture area.
Public officials, architects and historians support the concept of a monument to the Guard, which serves as Indiana's military reserve. Under the command of Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Guard has 14,000 members who respond to state emergencies such as tornadoes and floods. Guard soldiers also support active U.S. Army troops at the discretion of the president.
But some say the monument could be an eyesore if built as planned.
"What I've seen is a matter of concern, with respect to University Park, which is one of Indianapolis' extraordinary landscapes," said Marsh Davis, president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. "Perhaps there's a more fitting location for it. Or perhaps there's a way to amend the design so it fits within the character of the park."
Created in 1876, University Park--bounded by New York, Meridian, Vermont and Pennsylvania streets--includes a five-level fountain and sculpture of President Benjamin Harrison, Indiana's only U.S. president. City planners in the 1920s made it a key part of Indianapolis' memorial plaza for veterans.
The DNR's Historic Preservation Review Board had been slated to review the Guard's proposal in January, but tabled the matter to allow more time for information gathering and analysis.
DNR officials will meet with a Guard team this week. The Historic Preservation Review Board will formally consider the Guard's proposal at its April meeting.
"I think we'll all have a better understanding where this is after we get together," said DNR Deputy Director Ron McAhron.
RQAW President Thomas Helbing, an Army veteran, said the pro bono project has been developed in "fits and jerks" for several years.
"We're doing this as a labor of love," Helbing said. "It's not like a road project where it makes money."
While the monument's design has been free, its erection won't be. Umbarger estimates it will cost $2 million to $2.5 million to build, which the Guard plans to raise from businesses and individuals. Umbarger said it should take about two years to finish planning and fund raising. After that, the monument's construction would take six to nine months.
"The [Guard's] story needs to be told, and how better to tell it than a tribute all the citizens of Indiana would be proud of?" Umbarger asked.
He noted that the Guard's proposal has already been approved by the Indiana War Memorial Commission, the state agency that oversees University Park, the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the circle, and the U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial. U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of Indiana War Memorials, deferred comment to Umbarger.
Even though the monument would sit on one of downtown's highest-profile sites, city officials weren't aware of the project until they were contacted by IBJ. They immediately offered blanket statements of support.
"To honor those who have served in the National Guard is absolutely appropriate," said Mayor Bart Peterson. "I love the idea."
City-County Councilor Vernon Brown, chairman of the council's Parks and Recreation Committee, added: "It sounds like a good project. The Guard makes a tremendous sacrifice for the citizens here. A lot of young people don't realize the contribution the Guard makes."
Those who have seen artist's renderings of the proposed monument aren't as unabashedly supportive.
Seen from the street, its walls could look like a concrete bunker. Architects and historians are worried it might blemish University Park, which is registered as a national historic landmark, the highest designation from the National Park Service.
"Let it be very clear that we support fully the idea of a tribute to Indiana's National Guard. There's no question about that," Davis said. "The question is, can we assist in the process of both protecting the wonderful character of University Park and finding a fitting memorial?"
Umbarger sounds willing to compromise.
"We would want it to aesthetically fit with a positive impact," Umbarger said. "I would be very open to suggestions from any groups."
"I do like the location. It fits right in where something of this type should be," he added. "But I'm always a very open person. That's what the process should be. It should be something that isn't railroaded through."