The Indiana War Memorials Commission (IWMC), U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc., City of Indianapolis and Indiana Department of Administration (IDOA) have a plan for some of the last undeveloped land left in downtown Indianapolis: a memorial to the decommissioned nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Indianapolis.
On May 22 of last year, the Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD), which owns the site, held a "canal stakeholders" meeting in response to the grassroots organization Canal Park Advocates' (CPA) request for an opportunity for public comments.
At the meeting U.S. Submarine Veterans described the plan, and several citizens in attendance questioned the appropriateness of the memorial for the site.
Robert Smiley, a member of U.S. Submarine Veterans, stated, "God intends for the group to have the site for our memorial because the site has not been developed."
The proposed site is a half acre of undeveloped land on the northern end of the Central Canal in downtown Indianapolis and is nearly the last open tract along the canal. The canal starts north of the Indiana Government Center and passes the Eiteljorg Museum, NCAA headquarters and Indianapolis Zoo before its confluence with the White River.
""Today the site of the planned submarine memorial is popular with its neighbors, workers and visitors because it provides a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere away from downtown traffic and commercial bustle." - Clarke Kahlo, Canal Park Advocates (CPA)
Currently the site is designated as city/state green space. It hasn't been developed because it has limited commercial value. Since 1996 about one-sixth of an an adjacent acre has been devoted to a memorial to a Navy cruiser, also named USS Indianapolis, that a Japanese submarine sank in World War II.
The memorial would consist of the submarine's 19.5-foot conning tower (the raised structure on the deck used for navigation and attack direction) with a concrete replica of the hull about 60 feet long, according to plans that Heartland Design drew up for the sub vets' organization in August 2008. The vessel served from 1980 to 1998, is moored in Bremerton, Wash., and is to be recycled in 2012.
The late retired Marine Col. Robert C. McInteer of Indianapolis, a former director of the Indiana War Memorials Foundation, said the submarine USS Indianapolis is "Navy junk" and that the Navy is always looking for somewhere to deposit its used and obsolete vessels.
CPA, according to a founding organizer, Clarke Kahlo, is "a classic story of a couple citizens getting together and questioning whether our green space should be developed." CPA had formed in 2008 to oppose a proposed downtown hotel on another section of the canal by Ohio Street. The group went into action again in 2009 when it learned of the submarine memorial through a newspaper article.
"Today the site of the planned submarine memorial is popular with its neighbors, workers and visitors because it provides a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere away from downtown traffic and commercial bustle," according to Kahlo.
"CPA questions whether Indianapolis needs another war monument."
IWMC is composed of members from each of the state's nine congressional districts. Eight of the nine members live outside central Indiana, and CPA questions whether they're concerned with how local residents might feel about the memorial's impact on their community.
"It is apparent that [U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc.] is a close-knit, quasi-fraternal group of about 35 members from throughout the state which strongly believes that it is entitled, by virtue of military service, to the use of the City-owned property on the downtown Canal," says Kahlo.
IWMC had previously requested a location in White River State Park, but state park officials objected.
Until CPA got involved, the public wasn't consulted about the choice of the sub memorial's site. "The proponents of the memorial," Kahlo says, "aren't sharing information but have the responsibility to be open and forthright about what they plan."
CPA claims IWMC has resisted public input on the project. "Unfortunately, experience in Indianapolis has often shown," says Kahlo, "that development projects which are politically pushed through the system with minimal public exposure and scrutiny, and limited opportunity for public comment, are intended for the benefit of influential commercial or political interests, and are not in the overall public interest."
"The suitability of the site is questionable."
But instead of taking the concerns about democracy to heart, U.S. Submarine Veterans, according to CPA, "has sought to discredit and vilify those who question their sub memorial plan, including concerns about democracy and development decision making."
As CPA sees it, the City, as the cognizant regulatory authority in development and decision making, has forsaken the public trust in its dealings with the monument. DMD staff members have implied that the project is a done deal, with the public shut out of the discussion. Not until CPA became involved did IWMC show interest in community discussion of and feedback on the memorial.
"The land involved is public land, and the public has a clear right to weigh in with their opinions - prior to any final plans being ratified," Kahlo asserts. "This is the peoples' business, not a clandestine military operation. Also, state taxpayers' funds were expended on final design work even before the IMWC sought public input. That they would keep us at bay until plans are virtually finalized is an extreme disservice to the public process."
In 2001 then-Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, commissioned a $40,000 study by the Trust for Public Land that documented the great deficiency in Indianapolis parks.
CPA holds that the submarine project "is a virtual poster-child for what Peterson's Republican predecessor Bill Hudnut decried (in his essay in the Indiana Magazine of History, August 2006) as "'green space-gobbling promiscuous development.'"
Although CPA opposes the monument site, not the monument per se, as the group delved into the plan, its research exposed facts challenging the memorial's wisdom.
"The memorial might not meet the criteria of the Navy itself for monuments."
First, CPA questions whether Indianapolis needs another war monument. The city is second only to Washington, DC, in the number of monuments it contains and the acreage they occupy.
Kahlo points out, "There are already two military memorials along the canal. Do we really need another, especially considering that our downtown green space is being continually whittled away for one politically preordained development after another?"
Second, the suitability of the site is questionable. The Central Indiana Community Foundation plans to construct a two-block peace walk along the canal, funded by real estate developer Gene B. Glick, and dedicated to individuals who achieved greatness through peaceful pursuits. The peace walk, which includes 12 sculptural gardens that celebrate the lives and achievements of those luminaries, extends from Meridian west to Senate Avenue and will become part of the Indianapolis cultural trail.
Third, according to Barry Dressel, former executive director of the Indiana State Museum and a naval historian, the memorial might not meet the criteria of the Navy itself for monuments since the sub didn't engage in battle, lose any lives or sink in armed conflict. It was just decommissioned.
Fourth is what Kahlo calls "mission drift." A member of U.S. Submarine Veterans stated that the proposed memorial is "for all submarine veterans," not just for those who served on the USS Indianapolis. However, the organization's statement of purpose, presented at the May 22 meeting, is "to perpetuate the memory of our shipmates who gave their lives in the pursuit of their duties while serving their country. . . ."
"CPA questions the appropriateness of the site."
Fifth, CPA questions the appropriateness of the site. Kahlo says, "A private funding source does not somehow excuse an improper 'taking' of public land."
A secondary issue is whether IWMC can maintain the memorial properly.
The preliminary estimate of the cost of the memorial is $225,000, but Heartland Design hasn't shared the exact cost with CPA or other members of the concerned public. The memorial's proponents hope it will be privately funded. However, the City, using taxpayers' money, is responsible for its upkeep. The IWMC isn't requiring a maintenance endowment from the memorial's funders.
Kahlo points out, "There should be an adequate maintenance endowment as a prerequisite to any proposed memorials. Otherwise, the promoters of the submarine memorial will be apt to just 'walk away,' and it will become another maintenance albatross around the necks of state and local taxpayers."
Senator James W. Merritt, Jr.'s 1997 book Passing the Torch: Preserving Indiana's History, noted that in 1994, architect Bob Kennedy (DMD's former director) observed to the Indianapolis Star, on behalf of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, that the deteriorating condition of the World War II Memorial, on North Meridian Street, had reached a critical point. CPA wonders if IWMC is prepared to take on another monument.
This question is especially pertinent because of the State's increasingly strained finances.
Sixth, CPA argues that the size and scale of the proposed memorial would overwhelm the site and its surroundings visually and would detract from the adjacent cruiser memorial.
Seventh, an eyewitness report by someone living in the Watermark community saw people wearing clothing identifying their employer as the IWMC dump liquid waste into the canal. CPA wonders if IWMC is capable of carrying out its business in an environmentally responsible way.
The controversy is far from over. Currently CPA is in a wait-and-see mode. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is reputed to have given the green light to the plan. However, he hasn't stated his position publicly, and a valid official petition has not yet been filed with the City planners. An opportunity remains to beneficially influence the City's thinking on the plan for the submarine memorial.
Linda Greene is an activist and writer in Bloomington.
What you can do
If you think green space would still be the best use of this City-owned land, inform Indianapolis officials now. To make comments about the proposal for the official public file on the case and request a copy of CPA's case statement, which is a part of the public file, contact Jeff York () at the Indianapolis Division of Planning.
Also, contact Brigadier General Stewart Goodwin of IWMC () to urge the commission to withdraw its proposal for the monument.