Thanks to a $5.5-million pledge from The Patterson Foundation, the Sarasota National Cemetery will have an enhanced ceremonial area capable of hosting more than 2,600 people.
The nearly 2-acre site will serve as a formal place for ceremonies and celebrations, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, held at the veterans cemetery on State Road 72, east of I-75.
The improvements also will provide enjoyment for visitors throughout the year.
“(The goal is to) inspire patriotism and honor the nation’s veterans,” said Mary Elder, the cemetery’s acting director.
The enhanced area will consist of a large, covered seating area for nearly 3,000 people, a stage with lighting and amplification systems, artwork, gardens and veteran memorials.
The Patterson Foundation approached the Sarasota National Cemetery last year with a concept for an enhanced assembly area, as part of its military initiative.
“We saw extensive funding in so many other areas concerning veterans,” said Patterson Foundation president and CEO Debra Jacobs. “But there is no other foundation to show how private philanthropy can enhance national cemeteries.”
Jacobs hopes this project will serve as a model for the country’s 130 veterans cemeteries, so their communities can provide similar facilities.
“We can show donors how to (create assembly areas) without a learning curve,” she said.
The Sarasota National Cemetery eventually will encompass 295 acres; 13 acres have been completed in phase one of construction, which is expected to last until late summer 2012.
Construction of the enhanced assembly area will begin as soon as phase one is finished.
As of July 22, 3,738 veterans and their family members had been interred at the cemetery.
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• Seating for 2,590 people
• Covered stage that holds up to 30 people
• Lighting and amplification system
• Service and war memorials
• 80-foot flagpole