Naples Freedom Memorial not ready for 9/11 anniversary due to granite cost - PHOTOS

The Freedom Memorial, not yet finished, at Freedom Park in Naples on Sept. 9, 2011. Greg Kahn/Staff

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The Freedom Memorial, not yet finished, at Freedom Park in Naples on Sept. 9, 2011. Greg Kahn/Staff

Should plans for the Freedom Memorial be scaled back?

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Private donations are being solicited to pay for construction of the memorial. Send checks to:

The Collier County Clerk of Courts

Attn: Freedom Memorial Fund 620

3299 U.S. 41 E, Suite 700

Naples, Fla. 34112-5746

— From bronze commemorative plaques to abstract sculptures, communities around the country marked 9/11 through the past decade with memorials large and small.

When a group of Neapolitans decided to build a local tribute to the event, they went big, with a $1.3 million memorial that visually incorporates no fewer than 10 patriotic or 9/11 elements.

But there won’t be any 10th anniversary tribute at the site this year, because the task force behind the memorial has raised less than half of the money needed to complete it. In fact, there hasn’t been any work on the memorial in at least five months.

Despite the financial lag, task force members said they are standing their ground on the memorial’s design, and won’t cut back on costs to achieve it – even if that means waiting for another $700,000 to $800,000 in donations.

A former Naples firefighter, who sits on the task force, said the granite cladding on the upright American flag – the costliest part of the memorial – won’t be compromised in favor of another material.

“Would it look proper with a painted wall?” said Samuel Cadreau, standing in front of the chain link fence surrounding the unfinished memorial.

The foundation of the memorial is in place – a platform in the outline of the United States and the Pentagon, a concrete wall in the shape of an upright, undulating flag, and a grassy area around the memorial to represent Shanksville, Pa., according to the designer.

Still missing are: a granite flagpole with a globe and an eagle on top; 50 2-foot-wide stepping stones with seals from each state; a fountain with two troughs to represent the Twin Towers and the granite cladding for the flag-wall. And there will be four benches dedicated to the sites hit, including flight numbers.

There is a spot on the lower west side of the flag-wall where thick pieces of the cocoa-colored granite slabs have been put into place to show what the final product will look like.

Memorial organizers are in the project for the long-haul, however, and say they didn’t expect the site to be ready by now. The prevailing sentiment is that if the project has gone this far, why change things now?

“Who would want it just painted?” said Claude Nesbitt, the senior project manager for Collier County government who is tasked with leading construction of the project.

Work began in what now is Freedom Park, at the northeast corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway, in March 2009.

This is one of several Southwest Florida stories about the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Return to naplesnews.com through Monday for more stories or pick up copies of the Daily News on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“All that effort. I think that’s what the artist’s intention was. To try to convey that the sacrifice they made was so great. And the granite represents that,” Nesbitt said.

The site’s designer, Gerald Ladue, upholds his initial plans to use granite.

“The granite is much more respectful of what we’re doing,” Ladue said.

What is preventing the completion of the rest of the flag on both sides with the granite is the lack of funding.

Donations have fluctuated over the years, according to numbers provided by county staff, starting at $44,528 in 2007, dipping to $29,180 in 2010, and rebounding with $122,373 during the current fiscal year. This year’s total was bolstered by a donation from Paradise Advertising and Marketing in December.

The advertising firm, which has a contract with Collier County government, raised red flags of its own with its $50,000 donation for the memorial, with some county commissioners questioning if there was a conflict of interest.

Though the park belongs to the county, and is within the city limits, apart from a few grants the funding must come from private donations.

More small-scale donors – those who bought engraved bricks for up to $300 to place around the site – said the slow-moving construction doesn’t bother them.

“I wish it was done but I knew it was going to take a while. As long as it gets done,” said Bill Kilgus, who donated two bricks. One of them commemorates several generations of his family serving in New York City’s fire department, Kilgus explained.

Bunny Brooks and her husband, who served in the Marines, also donated a brick – and the lack of progress at the site doesn’t faze them either.

“I know that it’s a worthy cause,” Brooks said. “In time, it will be done.”

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