Plans unveiled for new I-35W memorial

After years of uncertainty about the development of a memorial to the victims and survivors of the Aug. 1, 2007 Interstate 35W Bridge collapse, the city is one step away from starting construction.

Mayor R.T. Rybak unveiled new plans Sept. 9 for a memorial slated for parkland along the river near 11th Street and West River Parkway. It’s across the street from Gold Medal Park, the original site for the memorial, which was abandoned because of complications with the leased property’s ownership. All that’s needed for the new memorial to move forward is the approval of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which is expected soon.

“There was not a single doubt in my mind that this would happen,” Rybak said. “I thought it would be complicated, but I knew this community would step up in the way that we asked them to.”

Rather than the circular design pitched for Gold Medal Park, the new concept is linear, featuring a plaza that stretches 81 feet, commemorating the date of the collapse (8-1). It will incorporate a water-covered wall listing the names of collapse survivors and 13 I-beams backlit with blue light and inscribed with the names of the 13 people who died in the disaster.

“It’s an honor that my dad’s name gets to be on one of the pillars,” said Justina Hausmann, who lost her father, Peter Hausmann, in the collapse. “That his final act in trying to save a mother and her child will not be forgotten by both my family and the community.”

Hausmann and several other survivors and family members of victims were at the unveiling of the memorial design. Also there were architect Tom Oslund of Oslund and Associates and attorneys who recently won a $52.4 million settlement for survivors from San Fransisco-based URS Corp, which was a consultant on the bridge at the time of the collapse. The involved law firms donated $1.5 million of the settlement to memorial construction.

Rybak said the total cost of the memorial is roughly $800,000 and he hopes to use the remaining funds to start an endowment for maintenance of the site. Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland (District 3), who happened to walk by the site during the design unveiling, said he also thought the leftover funds would be sufficient for an endowment, which would keep maintenance expenses clear of taxpayers.

Vreeland said he wasn’t sure when the Park Board would vote on whether to approve the site for a memorial.

“This is not controversial,” he said. “It should move forward rapidly.”

The memorial unveiling happened just as crews were beginning to remove debris from the bridge collapse from Bohemian Flats Park, where they sat for years during investigations and litigation. Vreeland said the site should be cleared and return to public use within a month.

With the Park Board’s OK, memorial construction could start next spring. Rybak said the goal is to have it complete by the four-year anniversary of the collapse. Survivors and family members of victims were relieved to have a timeline set.

“I began to get a sense that after three years, the probability of a memorial was becoming iffy and more likely than not that it would not come to fruition,” said Brent Olson, who was on the bridge with his wife when it collapsed.

Survivors and affected families were the drivers behind the memorial’s development, which Olson said made for a contentious process at times. But he said that was expected and in the end, several close friendships were formed and a memorial was developed that will serve an important purpose.

“We are a random collection of individuals thrown together as the result of a tragic yet preventable disaster,” Olson said. “This will be a place where we survivors and others affected by the bridge collapse can go and reflect on what happened that fateful day.”

Erica Gwillim said now that the wreckage is gone, it is important to have a site for survivors, affected families, first responders and the community to remember not only the tragedy, but the good that came from it.

“Ultimately I hope the garden serves as a reminder to the community that even in our busy day to day lives, we stopped everything that day to care for each other,” she said. “Each moment we have is precious. My August 1st, 2007, 6:06 p.m. almost never came.”