The names of all Franklin County war dead are engraved on its walls.

 The people approved a bond issue in 1951 to move veteran’s services from a building too small to service the tens of thousands of veterans living in the county and built Veterans Memorial.

 But that long-standing commitment to veterans died quickly last year when downtown developers told Franklin County Commissioners and Statehouse politicians to demolish Vets Memorial, to make the county safe for more condos.

 On December 3, 2013, the Commissioners authorized the complete demolition of Veterans Memorial and have allocated more than $20 million of taxpayers’ money to desecrate the building valued at $54 million.

 Combat veteran John Dreska, who served in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq argues that “it is not only an attack against veterans, but an assault against taxpayers as well.”

 The Memorial is the 11th largest veteran’s venue in the U.S. The building includes a 4000-seat auditorium, memorial shrines, convention areas, veteran’s service offices and meeting rooms.

Many local groups use the building and more than 400,000 people annually visit Vets Memorial for conventions, graduation ceremonies, trade shows, community events and concerts. The likes of Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, among other legends, have performed in the auditorium. Nearly $3 million of capital improvements flowed into the facility since 2012.

 Also on December 3, the Franklin County Commission quietly transferred the west section of Veteran’s Memorial land to a so-called community improvement group. In Resolution No. 0906- 13, the Commission appears to have given away the land, which is owned by the taxpayers, for free. The Franklin County Auditor’s website lists the value of the land at more than $3.5 million.

 So let’s add up the cost to the taxpayers: destroy a building worth $54 million, tear down $3 million in improvements, pay $20 million for the demolition, and then give away $3.5 million to developers = a loss of $80.5 million, not to mention $150,000 a year in profits.

Greedy developers over needy vets

 Why would the Commissioners, Columbus’ mayor, Columbus City Council and the state legislators destroy a historic community asset that made a profit of more than $300,000 over the last two years? Their stated purpose is “private development” on the site.

 The Vets Memorial demolition is part of a much grander plan to redevelop the Scioto Peninsula and Columbus’ riverfront. Part of the secret redevelopment plan emerged in the recent countywide initiative to put a zoo on the south side of the Center of Science Industry (COSI), across the street from Vets Memorial. Franklin County voters overwhelmingly rejected a permanent zoo levy in the primary election on May 6, 2014.

 While voters were wise enough to beat back developers on the zoo levy, a close look at the grand plan reveals that the destruction of Vets Memorial will still go forward. Instead of stepping back to reconsider their unpopular plan, downtown developers are rushing to raze the building.

 At the center of the master plan is the secretive Columbus Downtown Developers Corporation (CDDC) and Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. Guy Worley, Michael Coleman’s former Chief of Staff, is the CEO and President of the CDDC and Capitol South and has headed downtown development in the city since 2007.

 Commissioners say get back, vets say fight back

 Vets Memorial’s destruction was decided with neither the vote of the people nor the consent of the county’s veterans. At least 15 local veterans groups want to preserve the building, including largest veteran’s venue in the U.S. The building includes a 4000-seat. Even a majority of the members of Columbus Mayor Coleman’s Vets Advisory Board are against the building’s destruction.

 Bikers rallied early on in support of the veterans on September 7, 2013. One of the veterans on a motorcycle, Steve Ebersole of the American Legion District 12, spoke out, telling NPR news reporter Sam Hendren, “What they want to do is take the rest of the 17 acres – the 12 acres on the back half – and build apartments and condos. So in my opinion, it is purposely a land grab.”

 The fact was not lost on the bikers at the rally that those grabbing the land for condos and retail were the same people who had failed so miserably in developing the downtown City Center mall. Capitol South still owes the city millions of dollars for its City Center debacle.

 After Bill Goldman, a Veterans Memorial Board member, publicly complained that “we never had a seat at the table,” he received a letter from the Franklin County Board of Commissioners thanking him for his service and did not renew his appointment. “Had we had a seat at the table we believe that we could have presented at least an alternative to tearing it down,” Goldman said.

 The Veteran’s Memorial Board of Trustees proposed an alternative plan on October 22, 2013 that would have renovated, updated and expanded the current facility. It was quickly dismissed by the Franklin County Commissioners.

No free speech on the home front

 Dreska wrote a November 11, 2013 letter to the Franklin County Commissioners accusing them of not listening to veteran’s views on the destruction of the Memorial. “As a concerned veteran, I am writing to you about the way you recently treated several disabled veterans that came to speak to you about the revitalization of Veteran’s Memorial. It was shameful that Mr. O’Grady couldn’t put down his Blackberry/Smart Phone to even listen. It was shameful that the group of you would not take comments from the floor. It was shameful the way that you, Mr. O’Grady, and you, Ms. Brooks, wouldn’t listen to Ms. [Marilyn] Brown when she suggested dialogue between CDDC and the Franklin County Veteran’s Service Commission,” he wrote.

The letter ended with, “We will have the dialogue out in public...”

Dreska repeated his request for an “open, public, two-way dialogue” on Vets Memorial in a November 25 email.

 Commissioner Brooks’ email response upped the ante by raising the spectre of the Army brass: “By the way, is the position you are taking that of your commanders, or is it personal?” she wrote.

 Dreska went public with his assessment that Brooks was trying to get him in trouble with the military and that she was acting unprofessionally.

 On November 27, 2013, the Board of the Veteran’s Service Commission voted unanimously to oppose the demolition of Veteran’s Memorial.

 They received an invitation flier for an open meeting on December 19 from the Mayor’s ADA and Veteran’s Affairs Coordinator Richard A. Isbell that stated: “Please be advised that this is your opportunity to be briefed on Vets Memorial and have your voice heard on the matter.”

However during the meeting, while Dreska was at the mic reiterating the veteran’s opposition to Vets Memorial’s destruction, Isbell grabbed the mic from him mid-sentence and pulled the plug on the meeting. Video of the event can be found at

 In early January, the Commissioners authorized the relocation of the Franklin County Veterans Service Commission, including the plaques and other memorial displays, from Vets Memorial to 280 E. Broad St., currently the Franklin County Board of Elections. The Board of Elections is moving to 1700 Morse Road.

 Ironically, the 280 E. Broad Street site is where the original Veterans Memorial building was located in 1951. That location was deemed too small back then, hence the current Vets Memorial was constructed between 1951 and 1955.

 Developers have declared this latest war in Franklin County and the vets are once again willing to fight.