Veterans Hall update marches forward | February 22, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - February 22, 2008

Veterans Hall update marches forward

Town OKs proposed business plan, now will hire architect

by Meghan Neal

Danville is one step closer to getting a new Veterans Memorial Building downtown.

Dozens of local veterans and others who would like to see the old building renovated showed up at Tuesday night's Town Council meeting, eager to see if the council would vote to move forward with a proposed business plan for the reconstruction of the hall.

The council enthusiastically approved the plan unanimously, praising it as a triumph for past and future vets, and the entire town.

"We're making history here this evening whether you know it or not," said Councilman Mike Doyle. "I am proud as hell to say that I'm a veteran, and I endorse this project 100 percent."

The plan's approval is a significant step in what's been an ongoing effort to get a new veterans hall built.

Everyone agreed the old building is reaching the end of its usable life: It's not meeting certain safety codes, has a shoddy electrical system, asbestos and accessibility problems.

Moreover, those itching to see the building reconstructed say the current space is too limited to meet the growing demand for the building's use.

A key aspect of the plan stipulates the new building would be a multiuse facility, meeting the needs of not only veterans, but also seniors, local nonprofit groups and private parties.

The Veterans Memorial Building Development Committee of San Ramon Valley, formed in 2005 as a group of volunteers, then as a nonprofit, is spearheading the project.

The committee is made up of local V.F.W., American Legion members and veterans.

In October the town gave the committee $75,000 to come up with a business and funding plan for a new building; the committee hired VenueTech, a consulting firm that specializes in such plans.

At Tuesday's meeting, VenueTech's John Lind presented the plan to the council, calling it "a road map for how we get from where we are now, to getting this thing up and running."

The plan includes a banquet hall downstairs, which could seat up to 560 people and be rented out for large parties as a way for the building to generate revenue. There would also be a smaller event hall upstairs, allowing for multiple events to take place at once.

"This is a very, very critical element," said Lind. "It's probably the most important element of the whole plan."

The second floor would be an exclusive veterans' wing, accessible by elevator and with a private entrance.

Although it's not yet decided if the building will be renovated or completely rebuilt, Lind said an expansion is a likely bet.

He said to accomplish what's outlined in the plan - essentially, a bigger space - the building would have to expand back into the parking spaces that are now behind the hall. Since the town built the new Front Street parking lot near the site, this shouldn't pose a problem.

The project is complicated by the fact that the building is currently owned by the county - something the town would like to see change.

In 2006, the town promised $750,000 in funding for the project. But Councilman Newell Arnerich said it's not easy to use taxpayer money on something not owned by the town, so getting the county to transfer ownership is an important step.

"It wouldn't feel right to take the town money and put it toward the county," Lind agreed.

The county has expressed a willingness to transfer ownership, and a meeting is planned to discuss the issue further, Mayor Candice Andersen said.

The total cost of the reconstruction project is estimated to be between $7 million and $8 million, depending on the final design and timing. The committee has pledged to raise $3 million of it through a community fundraising effort.

The next steps are to get the county on board, hire an architect to develop a specific plan for the new building, and start raising funds.

"We want the building to honor you as we honor you and thank you for our freedom," Councilwoman Karen Stepper, who has served as a liaison to the committee, told the veterans at the meeting.

"This is for the veterans who are coming up - people who are in Afghanistan and Iraq and all over the globe tonight."