WASHINGTON (AP) _ Wal-Mart's charitable arm recently announced a $12.5 million letter of credit for the planned Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall to help start construction, though a disagreement over how to secure the site may delay the project until some time next year.
The National Park Service has insisted that the memorial's design include security measures, identifying an unspecified security threat by extremist groups “spouting racist ideologies.'' But other agencies with authority over the capital's architecture have resisted security barriers, calling them an embarrassment to King's legacy of inclusiveness.
“It appears to us that we're the one caught in the middle, and that's an uncomfortable position,'' said Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the memorial project. “From our point of view, we are positioned and ready to initiate construction.''
Organizers with the foundation working to build the memorial are asking for help from the Bush administration and Congress to get past the stalemate over security, Jackson said.
The financial backing from the Wal-Mart Foundation, announced on Thursday, Nov. 20, would help the memorial foundation submit required documents to the National Park Service to obtain a construction permit, a spokeswoman for the project said. Company officials said they wanted to help jump-start the building effort.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had previously given $1 million in 2005 as part of the project's fundraising from corporations and other donors.
“Our plan is to see them through to completion,'' said Esther Silver-Parker, a senior vice president at Wal-Mart. “We thought that given that this is the 45th year since the 'I Have a Dream' speech, that this would be an appropriate time to start construction.''
Silver-Parker said the black community is an important customer base for the company, which also wanted to contribute on behalf of more than 250,000 black employees among its U.S. work force of more than 1.4 million.
The memorial effort has raised $100 million of the $120 million needed for the project. On Wednesday, the group announced that former President Bill Clinton will help raise additional funds at a January event in Miami.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Washington sites have put up security walls and bollards to help stop a truck bomb or other threats. Park Service officials have said the King memorial would be a potential target.
Still, Jackson said he prefers not to have security barriers because it goes against the original memorial concept.
“It's more and more presenting a defensive posture,'' he said, “as opposed to the openness that was originally planned.''
The Park Service needs to reach a compromise with the National Capital Planning Commission, which rejected security bollards in its September approval of the memorial's design, Jackson said.
Park Service spokesman Bill Line said the burden is on memorial planners because a security system is required for the project. He said construction would likely not begin until spring or summer 2009.
“Whatever the alternate security plan is would have to come from them,'' Line said. He added that the memorial foundation also must submit certified bank statements to prove they have full funding for the project.
“The National Park Service is anxious to move forward with the project,'' Line said. “We are not wanting to be in any way an impediment to the memorial.''
On the Net:
Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial: http://www.buildthedream.org