Some local residents believe the condition of the Vietnam Memorial Fountain reflects poorly on Kansas City's reputation as "the city of fountains."
Weather-pitted concrete benches, fading painted names on a wall and cracks in basin walls of the memorial Kansas Citians built to remember area residents who fought and died during the Vietnam War. Those who've complained about the memorial's condition claim their voices have had little effect. But some believe community concern may be building about neglect of the memorial.
A citywide Public Improvement Advisory Commission (PIAC) soon will decide which city projects will receive funding during 2010, and the war memorial is on the list of candidates, said City Council member Jan Marcason. The 4th district council member said the memorial, which falls within her district, is lacking in many respects, including structurally and cosmetically.
"We definitely need to honor our Vietnam Veterans," Marcason said. "That's my era. I can remember...and this is not an appropriate way to honor them."
Marcason said she believes the memorial could receive a portion of the $300,000 she has learned is the estimated cost for minimal renovations and improvements to the memorial. Those close to the cause may have to wait another year or two for the remainder of the money, she said.
However, George Biswell, a landscape inspector for the Parks Department and vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 317, said his plan has a $600,000 price tag and includes new benches, a sidewalk and stairs leading to the memorial, signs and landscaping. The memorial is at 43rd and Broadway.
Marcason said the memorial's restoration has garnered a lot of support. "I think a lot of us in the 4th district see this as a priority," she said. "It's just such an important entity in our district."
Marcason believes the cause is even more compelling because of the economic status of many Vietnam veterans. "Vietnam Veterans aren't necessarily people of means, so they need our help," Marcason said.
Biswell said his group is a small but vocal organization in the fight to restore and improve the memorial. In the past 21 years since the memorial was erected, the only changes to the site have been minor maintenance such as light bulbs and pump replacements, he said.
Biswell said his veterans' group raised the $1.3 million necessary to finance the building of the Wall of Honor and fountain and that the group is determined to get public funding for the improvements needed now.
"We're not interested in going out and doing a major fundraising campaign," he said. "We feel we did that 21 years ago when we first got it built. This falls on the city's watch, not the Vietnam veterans’ watch."
The Vietnam Veterans of America concentrates its fundraising efforts in areas that directly benefit veterans, such as providing emergency financial assistance and advocating on behalf of veterans with the Veterans Administration, Biswell said. "A fountain, that's great....but, that (other forms of support) has a direct impact on veterans' lives."