War memorials in the path of Omaha’s downtown riverfront project will soon get a new home.
Pieces honoring the U.S. Marine Corps, airborne troops and hundreds of bricks memorializing various service members could make the move to Memorial Park by the end of the year.
The area is a natural fit, with its newly rehabbed World War II colonnade and monument dedicated to those who died during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Retired 1st Sgt. Daniel Falcon, who heads the Heartland Airborne Memorial Association, said he’s pleased about the plan, saying the airborne memorial and honor bricks should’ve been placed in Memorial Park when they were created about a decade ago.
He envisions that the move will mean that Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies will all take place at Memorial Park. His group used to hold a program downtown, while another took place in the park along Dodge Street.
A concept plan for Memorial Park shows the airborne and Marine monuments along a trail east of the rose garden.
“Now that we’re all in one place, we can put all our ideas and support into one joint ceremony,” Falcon said.
George Vogel, a veteran of the Marines who’s on the committee to help preserve the Marine Corps emblem memorial, said he, too, is happy about the move. He said his group hopes to raise funds to add bricks around the 8-foot emblem once it moves to Memorial Park.
Omaha Parks Director Brook Bench said officials have long been planning for the future of the downtown memorials. The riverfront project has been in the works for a couple of years.
“We’re getting pricing right now to lift them (the memorials) up and put them back exactly the way they were,” he said. The cost will be covered through the riverfront project’s funds, he said.
A roughly $290 million, mostly privately funded endeavor, the riverfront project is set to commence next month, starting with the closure of Gene Leahy Mall. Construction will last several years, and portions of a 90-acre area of downtown will close down in phases.
Heartland of America Park — where the war memorials to be moved are now — and Lewis & Clark Landing are part of the project. The idea of the effort is to make those areas more active and inviting public spaces. The project includes raising the Gene Leahy Mall to street level.
Bench said that the Take a Seat public art pieces in the mall are set to go to the new Flanagan Lake near 168th and Fort Streets. And there’s discussion about sending additional items to Hanscom Park and Fontenelle Park.
But some pieces within the project area will stay, such as the Labor monument and Omaha Fallen Firefighters Memorial, both at Lewis & Clark Landing.
“We know the importance of all of these different pieces of art and sculptures and war memorials and we will make sure we do our due diligence to make sure we find them proper homes,” Bench said.
City Councilman Pete Festersen, whose district includes Memorial Park, said he’s very supportive of the plan, given that the park has become the focal point for honoring veterans across the state.
“Building upon that with additional pieces of art and commemoration will only enhance that stature,” he said. “And it’ll be a nice improvement that neighbors will appreciate and that our veterans deserve.”