Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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Park’s future mired in present

The question of what to do with Huntridge Circle Park has plagued Las Vegas officials since the park was closed in November after one homeless man stabbed another to death there.

The next month, local activist Peter "Chris" Christoff offered a possible solution when he proposed turning Huntridge Circle, on Maryland Parkway near Charleston Boulevard, into a veterans memorial park. He indicated then that there was strong support for the idea, including financial backers willing to help with funding.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Councilman Gary Reese supported the idea, going so far as to contact Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, in an attempt to gain federal backing .

Although Berkley supports the creation of a veterans memorial park, it appears that if the project moves ahead, it will be without help from Washington.

"These American heroes answered the call to duty and placed their lives on the line in defense of our nation, and this park would remind us each day of their dedication and sacrifice," Berkley said in a statement. "Decisions about the future of a memorial park honoring our veterans, however, must be made by Mayor Goodman, the City Council and local officials, and I will support their choices regarding this worthwhile effort."

Since that initial meeting in December, Christoff said , no decisions have been made and there has been no real progress on the proposal.

"I keep asking them, 'Where are we on this and why are we standing still?' We need to get this on the (City Council) agenda and get it approved."

Last week Christoff decided he needed to take a more aggressive approach. He began circulating a petition asking for support for the park.

He plans to present the petition before summer to the council. "Sometime around Memorial Day would be a good time, if we can get a few thousand names by then," he said.

When City Manager Doug Selby closed the park last year, he cited concerns about escalating violence. Critics, however, said that city officials were troubled more by the increased presence of homeless people and that Huntridge Circle was no more dangerous than some other city parks.

Selby and Reese, whose ward includes the park, disagree and have vowed not to reopen the park until it is made safe.

Although Reese applauds Christoff's efforts, he said his staff has been looking into plans for the park and a petition will not speed the process.

"It will take staff another month or so to put renderings together and determine the location" in the park, Reese said.

Christoff initially wanted the entire park to be a veterans memorial, but Reese said he wants to make sure at least part of the site remains a park that children can use.

"I want the neighbors to have the use of a park. Any good neighborhood has to have that," Reese said.

Christoff has come around on that idea, but the next stumbling block could be the location of the memorial.

Christoff likes the idea of a park within a park, with the veterans memorial in the center, surrounded by an 8-foot fence, and the traditional park in the outer shell.

Reese agrees that a fence would be needed to protect the memorial from vandals but is leaning toward putting the memorial in the south end of the park and leaving the north end as a playground.

Preliminary discussions suggested that the memorial feature plaques with the names of armed forces members from Southern Nevada killed in wars.

Assuming federal dollars will not be available, the still undetermined cost is likely to be covered with private donations and city money.

Reese wants the cost and other key questions answered before he asks the council to back the plan.

In the meantime, if it seems as if Christoff is trying to round up supporters for a project that is already in the works, he says he's not taking any chances. "I've heard this before," he said.

The council recently announced a plan to install canopies at local parks this summer, but only after Christoff prodded members for months to move the project forward.

"Sometimes that's what it takes," Christoff said. "You have to stay on them."

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