LAKEWOOD RANCH — A memorial honoring fallen military heroes and first responders to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 may find a home in Lakewood Ranch after all.
With several placement options up for discussion, including one offered by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President Rex Jensen near the Lakewood Ranch Post Office, Lakewood Ranch resident Gene Sweeney, one of the memorial’s creators, now is honing in on a spot at which Lakewood Ranch residents truly can call their own — Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
On April 15, Lakewood Ranch Community Development District 2 supervisors considered a proposal to erect the monument directly in front of Town Hall in the median turnabout where the flagpole now stands and would remain.
“It’s not about the war, whether you believe in it or not,” Sweeney said. “It’s about the warrior. The idea is we’re trying to reach out and touch and honor (victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and fallen military heroes). There’re people here that have friends and relatives who were first responders and who lost family and friends. This is our community.”
Supervisors have yet not signed off on the idea and said they need more details, including the memorial’s dimensions as well as feedback from the other community development districts. They also suggested that placing the monument in front of the building, but more to the north, would be a safer and better location. Additionally, some legal and financial issues would have to be resolved before moving forward.
“It’d be terrific,” Supervisor Don O’Leary said of the memorial after the meeting. “The main thing is it costs us nothing. It’s really good publicity for us.”
Under Sweeney’s proposal, his non-profit Salt of the Earth USA would pay for the construction of the memorial through sponsorships he’s already secured. The entity would gift the memorial to the district, and Sweeney would create a separate non-profit, which would have no political affiliation, to act as the project’s caretaker and to host two fundraisers annually to pay for the memorial’s maintenance and other costs.
The memorial, which originally was proposed for Lakewood Ranch Main Street, has garnered ample community and business support. However, a few residents spoke against the concept at the CDD 2 meeting last week and have challenged the idea of honoring 9/11 victims and military heroes on the same monument.
“I feel like I’m speaking out against motherhood and apple pie,” said Galen Griffin, a resident of The Country Club. “Memorials belong and they have a bigger effect where they happened. I just don’t feel this is something that belongs here.”
Sweeney disagreed, noting even the Vietnam Memorial has two Vietnam Moving Wall Memorials, one of which came to Punta Gorda last summer, as a way for local individuals to pay their respects without having to travel to Washington, D.C. Plus, the Sept. 11 terrorists themselves trained in Venice, he said.
Bob Stepleman, chairman of CDD 2, said the board would take into consideration opinions voiced by the other CDDs and to make sure all potential issues are addressed.
“If the legal and financial issues could be worked out, it’s a very appropriate thing for us to consider seriously,” Stepleman said. “I would certainly be in favor if the legal and financial issues (are resolved) and the space is big enough. I don’t know how the other board members feel (about it). I don’t know what’s actually going to happen.”
Sweeney and Ed’s Tavern owner John Breiner first announced their plans to erect a Fallen Heroes Memorial in Lakewood Ranch in February. The men had been working with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to secure a site on Lakewood Ranch Main Street immediately next to Ed’s Tavern in hopes of having the tribute up in time for Memorial Day festivities.
However in mid-March, SMR President Rex Jensen offered an alternative site near the Lakewood Ranch Post Office, saying the Main Street location would not work out.
Sweeney is still considering that site, but also has been looking at other alternative locations, as well, including one in downtown Sarasota. But, Sweeney said, if CDD 2 supervisors OK the project, the monument will find its home at Town Hall.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
SCOPE: Project includes the installation of a 14-inch steel artifact box beam 10- to 12-feet tall from the World Trade Center Tower 1. Families would have the opportunity to inscribe the names of fallen military heroes or victims of 9/11 attacks on the base of the monument. The memorial will have no political or religious statements or references.
PURPOSE: To honor the victims and families of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor members of all branches of the U.S. military who died in service.
FUNDING: The project is being paid for through corporate sponsorships and donations and all construction costs, insurance and maintenance expenses associated with the project will be covered through two annual fundraising efforts. There will be no cost to the district.