City officials, Landmark Columbus exploring update on memorial plaza area

COLUMBUS, Ind. — City officials and Landmark Columbus leaders are working together to see how a memorial area in downtown Columbus could be updated.

The project, which is in early stages, concerns two plazas located on the north and south sides of State Road 46, just a little distance northeast of the Robert N. Stewart Bridge before it becomes Second Street. The areas have, at times, been separately or jointly referred to as the POW/MIA Plaza, the Robert D. Garton Veterans Plaza and the Public Safety Plaza. Viewed from above, the two halves form a circle.

City Director of Administration and Community Development Mary Ferdon described the north side as the POW/MIA Plaza or “the law enforcement plaza,” where the annual police memorial service is held each year in May. The area includes flags for the city, state, nation and POW/MIA remembrance, as well as Jo Saylors’ “Crack the Whip” sculpture of children playing together.

The south side of the circle, said Ferdon, is the Robert D. Garton Veterans Plaza.

“Both of those are important plazas, and it’s critical because, again, it’s one of our entrances into the city,” she said. “So if we redesign them, we want to make sure it’s done well.”

In 2019 and early 2020, the city was approached by a POW/MIA recognition group about potential changes to the north plaza, said Ferdon. As the city considered this, they realized that there were a number of stakeholders who should be engaged with the project.

“The sheriff and the police department do a ceremony every year, and ‘Crack the Whip’ is on it,” she said. “So we started just looking at the north side and realized that the south side of Second Street, the Robert Garton Plaza, is really part of that original plaza design, years ago.”

In considering stakeholder engagement, city officials spoke with Britt Brewer from Indiana University’s J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program, which has a class on Community and Coalition Building. In the fall of 2021, Brewer had students interview stakeholders about their opinions of the site and ideas for its future use. This included the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, the Columbus Police Department, Robert and Barb Garton, and the POW/MIA group.

The purpose of this process, said Ferdon, was to understand how the two plazas are used and how they may be used in the future.

“Once we got that information back from IU, we realized that it would really be great to have someone local who could take that information and synthesize it and help us figure out kind of next steps,” said Ferdon.

For more on this story, see Tuesday’s Republic.