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Group dreams of large veterans memorial in Clearwater's Crest Lake Park

CLEARWATER — Members of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance have a $1.3 million dream.

They want to see a Florida veterans memorial built in the southeast corner of Crest Lake Park, a city park on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. They envision a large brick circle with a compass design in the middle and seven bronze statues around the circle to represent conflicts where Americans have fought and died.

But the dream is just an artist's rendering right now.

And the veterans group needs the city's help to pay the cost of building the project — help the City Council hasn't yet voted to give.

The Veterans Alliance was formed nine years ago at the request of former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard to help put together a city Veterans Day program.

The event has continued annually and has grown each year, but it has jumped around from location to location — the Long Center, Clearwater High, Bright House Field and Coachman Park. Recently, the alliance has held some events in Crest Lake Park to help build awareness of the location for veterans activities, said Father Bob Swick, founder of the alliance.

Swick said the early planning for the project has "come together very nicely, unofficially." Mayor George Cretekos, who has pushed for improvements at Crest Lake Park, supports the idea of putting a veterans memorial in the public space, but said he needed more details about the project before signing off on it.

"We need to set aside an area that our veterans can be memorialized for events that take place in the city (and) for special holidays," Cretekos said. "And I feel like Crest Lake Park is one of the entryways to our downtown and beach and it's important to have it become a signature and focal point for the entire community."

Finances, design and location are some of the things Cretekos wanted to know more about. The veterans group first discussed its dream with city leaders at a November City Council work session but will refine the plan before it is officially presented for a council vote Jan. 16.

"I think most of council has expressed an interest in having this happen," Cretekos said. "But we have to know the specifics."

The project would be completed in two phases. Phase 1 would involve putting down the brick flatscaping and the compass and erecting three flag poles to fly the U.S. flag, the state flag and a POW flag.

Phase 1, to be completed by the end of 2014, would cost about $300,000, and the alliance is seeking city help with the cost. Under one preliminary proposal, the city would match what the alliance was able to raise, up to $150,000.

Phase 2 would include seven bronze statues representing military engagements from World War II to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including one to represent the Cold War. Phase 2 would cost about $1 million, but there is no definitive plan for how the alliance could raise that much money.

The group hopes the entire project could be finished by 2015.

"We know that the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance and the Florida Veterans Memorial at Crest Lake Park are favorably looked upon," Swick said. "We're itching to go."