Columbia Heights is raising money for peace memorial

  • Article by: KEVIN BURBACH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 4:20 PM

It would be the third in a series of monument installations around the city.

A carpenter by trade, Gary Peterson has spent the better part of his career building things. But only later in life has he turned to building a community.

Peterson, mayor of Columbia Heights for the past 12 years, is the driving force behind the Columbia Heights Community Heritage Tower, the third installment of a three-part public art series to promote community and peace in a changing city.

The mayor and his city are currently fundraising for the project that Peterson hopes will be unveiled in May.

Peterson and other public officials say the project can bring people together and promote the right message for a city that has changed dramatically in demographic terms over the past decade and is taking strides to be a stronger community.

About 87 percent of Columbia Heights residents identified themselves as white in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. That number stood at less than 70 percent in 2010.

“While some people are concerned about changing demographics, this community celebrates that,” said Police Chief Scott Nadeau.

Nadeau, who has served as chief for about five years, said unity is very important in a changing community.

The Heritage Tower is the third piece of Peterson’s decadelong dream to build public monuments for peace in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Peterson tried to get city funding for such monuments in the late 1990s but he said the momentum wasn’t there. After 9/11, Peterson returned to his vision.

“It kinda got a little more important to me, so I set off raising funds and doing it ourselves,” he said.

When the project began, Peterson said the monuments had been taken as antiwar, which he said is a misconception.

“It was just time to make a statement that peace is what we strive for. That’s for darn sure,” he said.

The city finished its first project, a Clock Tower of Peace at the corner of 40th and Central Avenues, in 2006. The tower has a time capsule inside with messages of peace from current citizens for future residents, including one left by a grandmother for her grandchildren. The city raised about $42,000 for the clock tower, Peterson said.

The city then built a bronze Police and Fire Tribute statue in 2009, outside the then-recently opened police and fire station. For that project, Peterson said the city raised more than $50,000.

For its last piece, the city will build the Heritage Tower, a four-sided structure in the middle of the roundabout at 39th Avenue and Jefferson Street near City Hall. Peterson said the city needs to raise about $40,000 for the project, which includes a legacy garden across the street and possibly a time capsule beneath the tower.

He said the spot was always meant for some public art, but it never was decided what kind.

“I’m not one for a lot of strange things that need explanation,” he said.

On the tower will be four words, one on each side: diversity, recreation, education and labor. They’ll represent what Peterson said are some of the core values of the city.

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