WASHINGTON – The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund announced Friday that it is ending its troubled project to build a $130 million underground Vietnam education center on the Mall.
The proposed center, which would have been adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and near the Lincoln Memorial, had been plagued by funding problems almost since the project was launched in 2001.
The fund’s president, Jim Knotts, said Friday the fund had raised only $45 million and prospects for raising the rest were dim.
The center would have been a kind of Vietnam War museum featuring exhibits and a projection of thousands of pictures of the 58,000 people who died in the war and whose names are on the memorial’s hallowed black wall.
Critics of the project, which was begun by the memorial’s creator, Jan Scruggs, argued that there was no need for an education center when the Wall was such a profound statement about the war.
Knotts said the unanimous decision was made by the seven voting members of its board at a regularly scheduled quarterly meeting at the fund’s office in Crystal City, Virginia.
He said the fund plans to create an online education center in place of the building.
Knotts said Friday he and his staff are “sad and disappointed that we were not able to make the project a success, resulting in a physical building on the National Mall.”
John Dibble, chairman of the board, said in a statement:
“This project has faced many difficult challenges since Jan Scruggs conceived the idea in 2001. It has been a long road and we have had many success along the way. Unfortunately, we’ve reached that point regarding a physical building that the funding has simply not materialized.”
Chuck Hagel, a prominent Vietnam veteran and former secretary of defense, said in a statement provided by the fund: “An Education Center building would have become a treasured national asset. However, … I believe the Board made the right decision to focus in technology to educate visitors about the memorial.”
Scruggs, the former head of the fund who once championed the project, had soured on it since he left the fund three years ago.
He had once traveled the country trying to raise funds for the project.
He hosted a gala groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 featuring then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former vice president Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, and singer Jimmy Buffett, who sang “God Bless America.”
“It’s not just another interesting little museum,” Scruggs said at the time. It will be “an amazing place where you can connect with the nation’s past.”
Last year the project got a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment – the largest single cash donation in the fund’s history.
But the price of the center kept going up, and fundraising couldn’t keep pace.
Scruggs and the fund gradually realized the effort was futile.
“The time has come for the VVMF to return the money” to all its donors, he said Friday. Asked if he was sad about the project’s demise, he said, “No. I think it’s great.”
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