ETCB to give $100,000 to Veterans Tribute

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Money will be donated incrementally and placed in escrow until construction begins

By Marty Finley

Nearly two months after organizers of the Hardin County Veterans Tribute asked the Elizabethtown Tourism Commission for a $100,000 donation, tourism officials have agreed to support the venture.

The Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau included $25,000 toward the Veterans Tribute in its 2011-12 fiscal year budget. The $2.9 million budget was approved last week and must receive final approval from Elizabethtown City Council before the donation can be finalized.

Sherry Murphy, executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau, said the commission is dedicated to the full $100,000 request, but it will be spread out over four annual $25,000 installments.

In light of the sports park, “everyone just felt it was better to do $25,000 (over four years) rather than such a huge sum in one year,” Murphy said Tuesday.

But the money will not be delivered until ground is broken on the project. As stewards of taxpayer money, Murphy said, the commission wants to ensure the money is used properly.

“We’ll put it in escrow until construction starts,” she said.

Murphy said the commission unanimously supported the decision to help fund the tribute, recognizing the potential the tribute houses as a premier tourist attraction in Elizabethtown.

Murphy said she believes the tribute will attract its share of visitors once it opens.

“It’s a magnificent (marker) of respect for veterans,” she said. “We think it will bring a lot of people to the area.”

Rik Hawkins, an organizer with the Hardin County Veterans Tribute, said the $100,000 donation made by ETCB is immensely appreciated and will perch tourism in rare company.

“It certainly places the organization as one of the premier sponsors,” Hawkins said Tuesday.

Hawkins addressed the commission in April alongside local sculptor Rich Griendling, who designed the tribute, and Gary Broadway, who brought the idea to Hawkins and Griendling.

During an April meeting, Hawkins said interest in the tribute is gradually building statewide and he believes the tribute could rival Elizabethtown Sports Park as an attraction once built. It will be placed at the Elizabethtown Nature Park off of Ring Road, which is in development.

“As we said during the presentation to tourism, we think it will be a great draw to the city,” he said.

He also told the commission that ETCB would recognize on placards at the tribute as a major sponsor should the $100,000 request be granted.

Some major sponsors already are in place, Hawkins has said, but some placards may feature four donors who gave $25,000 rather than one $100,000 sponsor, as an example. Hawkins has said he is contractually unable to reveal sponsors who have committed money for the project.

Not all the money pledged has been collected either, Hawkins has said. Some donors committed to providing a donation once the tribute is finished and others plan to spread donations over several years, a path followed by ETCB.

Hawkins said the money provided by the tourism bureau will build on a successful fundraising drive with more potential donors waiting in the wings. Hawkins said the group is close to securing even more money and will comfortably reach its goal of $550,000 before the tribute’s Veterans Day 2012 opening date.

“This amount certainly puts us on the downhill side of (fundraising),” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.