Scrapping a disputed design for a planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial near the National Mall and developing an alternate concept over the next five years would cost about $17 million, analysts have found.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office developed the estimate based on a House bill that would have the 14-year-old memorial project redesigned. The current memorial concept by architect Frank Gehry has been criticized by some, including Eisenhower’s family, as being “too extravagant” and too “avant-garde.”
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop called for a new design with the family’s support. He told The Associated Press on Friday that he was skeptical of the budget office’s projection, saying analysts took data from the current memorial commission staff members who are trying to save their jobs.
“We’re going to spend money one way or the other, unless you scrap everything,” Bishop said. “The question is which is the better approach. ... But I do believe that it could be done for less, and it could be done with something that would have a much more positive, lasting impact.”
Gehry — whose designs include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles — has proposed an Eisenhower memorial park with statues of the president and World War II hero framed by large metal tapestries depicting the Kansas landscape of Ike’s home. The federal Eisenhower Memorial Commission selected Gehry to design the memorial and unanimously approved his design in June.
About $60 million has already been allocated by Congress for the $142 million project. Gehry has said his design is on budget.
The cost estimate for a redesign was delivered Friday to the House Natural Resources Committee, which approved the bill calling for a new design competition run by a new staff and commission. The budget office said its estimate is based on historical spending for other national memorials. It projected the expenses for new staff and commissioners would be about the same as the current operation.
Some groups calling for a new memorial concept said a redesign could save money in the end by choosing a less expensive design. That’s not necessarily guaranteed, though. The estimated cost of a redesign does not project future construction costs.
The Eisenhower family has called for a simple memorial and has objected to Gehry’s idea of metal tapestries. Eisenhower’s grandson, David Eisenhower, was a member of the memorial commission that selected Gehry until he resigned in late 2011. Around that time, Susan Eisenhower and Anne Eisenhower, the former president’s granddaughters, began voicing objections to the scope and scale of the project on the family’s behalf.
In March, the memorial project had about $22.2 million unspent from $30.9 million allocated by Congress last year for design and construction, based on figures provided to The Associated Press. About $8.7 million had been committed for design work preparing for construction of Gehry’s plan.
Bishop, the lead sponsor of the redesign effort in Congress, said the memorial commission’s existing funds could be used to pay for a new design competition. The effort has not yet gained traction in the Senate, though, where Kansas Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, who serve on the memorial commission, have endorsed Gehry’s design.
“Rather than having a stalemate, we should probably try and come to agreement,” Bishop said, “especially before the commission starts authorizing more spending on this particular approach.”