Citizens focused on the preservation of North Central Park and opposition to the park as the site of a proposed veterans museum are asking like-minded Laredoans to join them at the Monday, December 4, City Council meeting to add voice to their position.
Friends of North Central Park, members of the Río Grande International Study Center (RGSC), local birders, environmentalists, and veterans have spoken in one voice to protect the park from encroachment. They have been clear in their support of a veterans museum, but object to the North Central Park location for the proposed construction of a large metal warehouse building and a concrete pad, and the installation of static exhibits like tanks and helicopters.
The proposed site is in the Marshall Tract of the park, which includes an environmentally sensitive wetland and a tributary of Manadas Creek.
Alyce McCain, a resident of nearby University Park and an organizer of Friends of North Central Park, said the park is not the right place for the museum.
“I’m not against a museum, but I don’t want it in North Central Park. We don’t need more park space being given up for concrete and parking lots. There is already enough encroachment to precious green spaces. This park is one of the nicest in Laredo, and it is used by many residents from all over the City,” McCain said.
“There are so many things wrong with this location for a museum. It doesn’t belong here. It isn’t even about the optics of having it there. This is not about going against veterans. It’s about preserving a green space meant to enhance the quality of life of many Laredo families who enjoy it for health and recreational activities,” she added.
McCain said that in talking to neighboring residents, she has not come across anyone who sees the preservation of parkland as an anti-veteran move. “They understand it’s about preserving the park. No one has told me it’s a perfect place for the veterans museum,” she said, adding, “As stakeholders, the taxpaying homeowners of District VI should have a voice in this, and so should all Laredoans who see the value of the park as an oasis of greenery and a place of respite.”
McCain concluded, “We ask those who want to preserve the park to show up Monday to help us put City Council on notice that this is not the place for the museum. We are not going to go away, and we’re not going to give up.”
Tricia Cortez, executive director of RGISC, said the riparian ecosystem of the wetland and Manadas tributary in North Central Park are home to wildlife and over 150 avian species. “This is the third most valuable hotspot for local birders and for those who visit the park as part of the City’s annual Birding Festival,” Cortez stressed. “Runoff from the footprint of the proposed building and its concrete pad, security lights, and the noise of air conditioners and events there would all affect wildlife habitat. We believe the intent of the park was to preserve greenspaces for Laredoans to enjoy and not to create a site for development. The latter would set a terrible precedent for any City park,” she said.
A small contingent of veterans who have caught the attention of District VI City Council member Charlie San Miguel have called the museum at North Central Park — which is in District VI — “a done deal.” Though that group avows that the North Central Park site has the support of most of Laredo’s 6,000-plus veterans, many veterans have come forward to say they have not been contacted by any of the 11 or so “commanders” who reportedly represent the City’s veteran population through organizations such as American Legion Posts 59 and 850, Korean War Veterans, Laredo Veterans Coalition, Disabled American Veterans, South Texas Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Association (STAIVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars, Catholic War Veterans, Laredo Vietnam Veterans, the Marine Corps League, Laredo Veterans Honor Guard, and LULAC.
The commander of each organization was to have canvassed his veterans organization to establish consensus for a site.
Laredo Community College has generously offered buildings and land on the historically significant site of Fort McIntosh, which was established as Camp Crawford in 1849 by the 1st US Infantry.
Al Villarreal, a veteran who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, believes the LCC site to be an appropriate and meaningful because it tells the story of Laredo’s military service in war and peace.
Lt. Cmdr. Douglas Alford (Ret.) said the LCC site is “perfect,” offering veterans a beautiful location in a historic space. He said that the City of Laredo and Webb County, who are discussing plans to re-allocate the $500,000 each set aside a decade ago to develop a veterans museum in the historic downtown Farias home, need to be part of the decision for where the museum will be built.
It is yet to be determined if or not the original $500,000 each from the City and the County were site specific to the Farias location.
Alford said that the LCC site made economic sense. “You wouldn’t need to spend all that money. You’d have enough to build exhibits,” he said, adding that the decision does not rest on a few veterans and a City Council member.
Another site that has been considered is the block across from the VA Clinic on the old Laredo Air Force Base.
At the November 20, 2017 City Council meeting, District VIII member Roberto Balli said of the proposed museum in North Central Park, “We can’t just move forward on what one group wants, and that would be the veterans. We have to consider the residents and the environmentalists. We have to look at each individual project on its merit, its budget, planning, programs, and the long-term feasibility of keeping it open. Those go far beyond one group. We can’t just listen to one group,” he said.
Albert Grooms, a former Marine and now a federal law enforcement officer in Laredo, owns a home near North Central Park and is opposed to the veterans museum there. He, too, would like to see it at Laredo Community College.
The veteran of two tours in Iraq and a member of the Air Force Reserve since 2015, Grooms told the City Council that he estimated that only 40 percent of Laredo veterans may be represented by various groups, and that most do not belong to any veterans organizations and would thereforenot be represented or polled for a preferred museum location.
For further information on participation at the Monday, December 4 City Council meeting, call Friends of Central Park at (956) 205-0223 or RGISC at (956) 718-1063.
To contact members of the Laredo City Council about the preservation of North Central Park, please consult the list below.
Mayor Pete Saenz – (956) 754-035
District I Rudy Gonzlaez – (956) 334-8793
District II Vidal Rodriguez – (956) 333-6438
District III Alex Perez – (956) 236-9498
District IV Albert Torres – (956) 774-5845
District V Nelly Vielma – (956) 333-7100
District VI Charlie San Miguel – Prefers text (956) 324-5678
District VII George Altgelt – (956) 645-2231
District VIII Roberto Balli – (956) 701-0114