Operation Welcome Home Veterans AZ closes down, ends efforts to build 'Vitorial’

Operation Welcome Home Veterans AZ hoped the Western Veterans Vitorial, as shown here in a rendering, would be a regional draw to Gilbert.

Operation Welcome Home Veterans AZ hoped the Western Veterans Vitorial, as shown here in a rendering, would be a regional draw to Gilbert.

Operation Welcome Veterans AZ, a group dedicated to honoring returning veterans and educating the public, has declared an end to its efforts to build a military-themed park in Gilbert.

The group sent a letter to Mayor Jenn Daniels on Sept. 25 to formally let the town know it intended to end operations and dissolve its 501(c)(3) corporation. The group, which had met with Daniels on Sept. 11, also thanked the town in the letter for its support of Operation Welcome Home Veterans’ efforts.

The Town Council is scheduled to meet Oct. 17 and will take up an item to terminate the town’s agreement and lease with the group for 5 acres of land just east of the town’s public safety building.

Plans for park

The group planned to build the “Western Veterans Vitorial” on the land, which it hoped would be a regional draw, according to board members. The highlight was to be an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It also would include an education and resource center for veterans plus other features for education, remembrance and reflection.

However, in the letter to Daniels and another to project supporters, Welcome Home Veterans AZ President Annie Remsburg acknowledged the group could not move forward because of funding.

“After five years, it has become apparent that revenues were going to be insufficient to continue construction beyond early site readiness,” Remsburg wrote in both letters. “After exhausting all fundraising strategies given our resources, the board determined that dissolution was the only rational conclusion to our efforts.”

The group had arranged some grading of the site but had not completed it. The Arizona National Guard’s 3rd platoon of the 258th Engineer Company performed preconstruction earth and site work as part of its training in 2018.

The town had completed some infrastructure improvements on the site during fiscal year 2017-18 at a cost of $1.18 million as part of its agreement with the group, according to town documents.

Daniels was unavailable for comment the night of Oct. 16. Remsburg and Council Member Aimee Yentes, a one-time board member of the group before she was elected to council, could not be reached for comment. Yentes was the person who coined the term “Vitorial” and named the park.

Next steps

In Remsburg’s letter to Daniels, she said the group will transfer to the town plans, drawings and documents relating to park construction. It also plans to take down its fencing around the site by the end of October.

The park was not the group’s only activity. It hosted welcome home celebrations for veterans, raised money for them and had educational programs for children.

The group was formed in 2014 and entered the agreement and lease with the town Aug. 27, 2015. It was amended Nov. 16, 2017. It originally estimated the cost to build the park to be $3 million.

According to town documents, the town will become responsible for parking lot and landscape maintenance on-site as well as fencing rental to secure it.


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