Veterans question use of their name for proposed $7.5 million building

Sue Keller

Some Marco Island veterans question the use of the name “veteran” in the $7.5 million multipurpose government building proposed by the city for Veterans Community Park and wonder if the structure is needed.

The Marco Island City Council met in special session Sept. 11 to discuss a legislative agenda to obtain $2.5 million from the state for the building. Under the proposal submitted by City Manager Roger Hernstadt, the city would pay $5 million, and the state would pay $2.5 million for the new building named for veterans.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, the region’s state legislative delegation to Tallahassee will review Marco Island’s proposal for the Veterans Community Service Center that may be built on 10-acre Veterans Community Park property.

The city’s latest proposal for the building was sent to state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo’s office and will be discussed when the legislative delegation meets in Naples to assess objectives for the next session in Tallahassee.

Veterans have been contacting city council members to voice their opinions. One of the first letters to the council came from Marco resident Ray McChesney.

“First of all, to discuss this building as a place to help veterans is a joke,” said McChesney, who said he watched the video of the Sept. 11 council meeting. “After viewing items from your September meeting, it appears as if the only reason the use of ‘veteran’ came up was to get money from Tallahassee. To hear Roger say that this multipurpose room could be possibly used by veterans for ‘four hours a week’ is a slap in the face to this group.”

“The city of Marco Island is working very hard to obtain a $2.5 million state grant to help construct a government building in Veteran's Park. If successful, there will be less money available to assist Florida veterans, and needy veterans will get less help,” said Vietnam vet Charlie Lamb.

“I see no need to spend hard-earned tax dollars to build this facility,” said vet and Marco resident Jeff Gilbert. “I might also question where the money came from to produce ‘shovel ready’ plans for this building and why there was no citizen’s input on the design of the structure and the choice of the designer. I might also question how much it will cost the city to maintain this building and what additional staff will be required and also if it is the city’s intention to move some City Hall functions into this space.

“I do know that the City Manager wanted to eliminate the farmers market and has made every effort to do so over time,” said Gilbert. “Is this just another method to destroy a valued venue?”

Gilbert said he contacted Passidomo and urged her not to consider the proposal.

Lee Henderson, a member of the American Legion and VFW, said that neither the American Legion nor VFW is in favor of any building in Veterans Park other than as a community park where you can sit on the lawn and watch concerts.

“If they want to build a building, that is what Mackle Park is for,” said Henderson. “A band shell is what should be going into Veterans Park. If they put a building up at Veterans Park it will take up all the room and we will never get a community center for concerts. I’m not for it at all.

“This came up as a surprise. Veterans Park had a whole plan, they need to go back and look at the plan,” said Henderson.

“As a Vietnam Veteran I don’t see the proposed building as being that useful and it will cost the taxpayers of Marco Island $5 million,” said VFW and American Legion member Russ Rakestraw.

Lee Rubenstein, commander of the American Legion Post 404, said upon returning from vacation his phone started ringing. The perception on the island is that the American Legion, Marco veterans or VFW were requesting a building for veterans at Veteran’s Community Park.

Using the name “veterans” on a building at Veterans Community Park did not come from the veterans, Rubenstein said.

The Civil Air Patrol, VFW, Coast Guard Auxiliary and American Legion met recently to discuss the upcoming Veteran’s Day program. Before the meeting, Rubenstein polled the group to find out if anybody solicited the city to put up a building of any type, for any purpose, or for any reason in the name of veterans.

In his Sept. 11 letter to Passidomo, Hernstadt said the city hopes to have the building complete to coincide with Veterans Day 2017.