Two area businesses are reviving plans to bring an iconic World War II monument to the Sarasota-Bradenton area.
Kevin Henault, a third-generation military veteran and owner of Veteran Air, and Gregg Anderson, owner of Digital Image Business Solutions, announced Tuesday the formation of a nonprofit to bring the original Iwo Jima monument to either Sarasota or Manatee counties. The Iwo Jima Memorial Project, which has a five-person board, plans to raise at least $1.5 million for the 10,000-pound, 20-foot-tall statue and install it in a location of the community’s choosing.
“I want people to remember what our country did in World War II,” Anderson said. “Some children have never heard of Iwo Jima.”
The nonprofit’s launch comes after an unsuccessful bid earlier this summer to fast track the approval process to bring the monument to Sarasota’s bayfront.
Longboat Key resident Harold Ronson, a Navy veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and Tom Savage, founder of the Sarasota Public Art Fund, spearheaded the original effort.
Savage raised $500,000 of the monument’s estimated $1.6 million price tag before the project went before the City Commission July 1.
The project had the backing of Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder, but plans to install the monument on the bayfront in time for the Nov. 10 238th anniversary of the Marine Corps were quashed when city commissioners voted 3-2, recommending the project go before a lengthy review process.
“It was disappointing to me how disrespectful the commission was to Savage,” Snyder said. “Here’s a guy trying to bring a piece of art to honor veterans to Sarasota for free, and they basically showed him the door.”
“I think it’s horrendous that Sarasota walked away from a gift of $1.5 million and the most famous icon in American history,” Ronson said in response to the commissioners’ decision.
Ronson and Savage abandoned the project, calling their efforts “an exercise in futility.”
When the original plans fell through, Anderson and Henault decided to launch their own effort — with Savage’s consent.
“I talked to Savage the day the Art Fund backed out,” Anderson said. “He said, ‘Go for it.’”
Asked where he’d like to see the statue be placed, Anderson said, “We want it in a place that gets a lot of attention and where a lot of people can see it. It just depends on what the community wants.”
The sculpture, currently in storage in Connecticut, sat forgotten in a New York studio for 50 years until it was restored in 1995.
“This statue commemorates a turning point in our country’s history,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “I believe this project can be a springboard to linking veterans past and present.”
The British fine-art auction house, Bonham, set the monument’s price tag at $1.2 million to $1.8 million in February — it didn’t sell. Anderson said his group will focus on securing the statue before final plans are made for a location.
“If we can’t buy the thing, fighting over a location is pointless,” he said.
Asked whether the revitalized Iwo Jima Memorial Project could find a home in Sarasota, Snyder said, “Make no mistake, no means no at City Hall. They’ll probably have to take it to Bradenton, Venice or Lakewood Ranch.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected].