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Years ago, audiences gathered around a bandstand in Munn Park for plays and concerts. A group that has remained anonymous so far would like to place an updated entertainment pavilion in the park, but there’s a likely hitch involving the Confederate monument in the center of the park.
“I was approached by a group that’s willing to raise funds to build a state-of-the-art performance pavilion in Munn Park,” City Commissioner Don Selvage said Friday. “And they would prefer that it go in the center of the park,” the site of a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers dedicated in 1910.
“As you know. I’ve defended that statue and I don’t think the debate should be about the statue,” Selvage said. “The debate should be what is the best thing to do in Munn Park for our community.”
Selvage told The Ledger he passed the offer along to City Manager Tony Delgado, telling him, “This is an opportunity to bring something to the park and be attractive for more visitors.”
The issue came up during an agenda study session Friday when Commissioner Jim Malless asked why he’s been getting calls and e-mails about the monument.
Delgado responded that city staffers began looking at options after Selvage received the offer. “Whether the monument is impacted or not, there’s still the opportunity to provide a gazebo or some kind of entertainment facility in Munn Park,” he said.
At least two commissioners said this is not the right time to open debate on emotionally charged issues involving the appropriate way to portray the Confederacy.
“I don’t think this is the time to bring it forward. I think it would be great for the city if we had a state-of-the-art pavilion with speaker sound systems where we can have events in our central park and I hope, probably naively, that the debate … is about where is the best place to keep that statue,” Selvage said.
Mayor Howard Wiggs agreed, saying, “The polarization is probably not going to benefit us at this moment.”
[box]Listen to the discussion from Friday’s meeting:
The issue should be put out for public debate “evenually,” Selvage said, “and let the community decide: we have a choice here — if that’s where we want it — and hope we can have the debate in a reasonable manner.”
Delgado said his staff is continuing to talk about the offer. “I hate to turn a gift horse in the mouth, especially if it’s something that would truly enhance Munn Park,” he told commissioners.
[box]Where would the monument go if it were moved?
A potential home would be Veterans Park west of The Lakeland Center, home to 16 monuments to fallen soldiers and first responders.
Selvage said he’s talked with veterans and law enforcement groups to gauge their feelings about moving the statue. They aren’t necessarily in favor of moving it, he said, but they would welcome it if it were to move.
“I reject any argument that this would be denigrating the statue. That’s a pretty good neighborhood to move that statue to,” Selvage said.[/box]
Last September, the commission took no action when resident Jo Ann Holmes asked them to consider moving the monument to a historical museum.
“If Lakeland were to move the statue to a public museum of history it would be seen as a gesture of reconciliation, a furthering of comity in our community, another step toward goodwill toward men and recogntion that all Americans are equal before the law and in the eyes of society,” Holmes told commissioners at that time.
Selvage, a career military officer, responded: “You commemorate the service of the soldier. That statue on top of that memorial does not memorialize the leaders or the people who led the South to secede. It commemorates a soldier from Florida who served because his country called him to.”
Aerial views of Munn Park at Christmas:
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The redesign of the park in the late 80s contemplated a facility to provide food and entertainment on the north side of the park with its back to the railroad and facing south. The monument and remainder of the park would be unaffected.
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