Construction on the Grand Forks Veterans Memorial Park is underway.

Workers began construction Wednesday, May 6. When finished, the park will feature a granite memorial wall, obelisks recognizing each branch of the military, shelters and a visitor center named after retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Al Palmer. Granite blocks, engraved with the names of Grand Forks residents who have served in the military, will be installed in a later phase of construction.

Wednesday’s groundbreaking is the culmination of years of planning, fundraising and design.

“There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train,” said Palmer, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Park Committee and namesake of the visitor center.

Palmer said he declined to have the visitor center named after him, but was outvoted on the committee. Grand Forks City Council approved the name.

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“I’m humbled, I’m honored, and all that kind of stuff,” Palmer said. “I tell you, it’s quite the honor.”

Last summer, the city rejected seven bids to build the visitor center, when they came in at more than $550,000. The idea was floated to scale back designs at the center, or eliminate some of its features. Subsequent bids came in lower, and additional fundraising, too. The visitors center is estimated to cost about $500,000.

“We decided that we didn't want to cut what the veterans deserve,” said Gary Shields, a fundraiser for the memorial park committee.

Shields said the total cost of the memorial park will run about $1.8 million, and the committee has raised about $1.3 million, between cash donations and donated material and labor. The bulk of the funding comes from area businesses and residents, including the Engelstad Foundation, which donated $250,000. Grand Forks car dealership Rydell added $100,000.

About 700 of the $200 granite blocks have been purchased, and Shields said he expects more will be sold.

“The city of Grand Forks, the businesses in Grand Forks and the people in Grand Forks have been extremely generous, to a fault,” Palmer said.

The city contributed $150,000 to the project, with Grand Forks County recently chipping in $10,000 for the visitor center. Shields said the committee was mindful about using public money.

“I'm sure (the public) doesn’t mind the city working with the veterans, but we've had a lot of dollars donated so that we didn't have to tap into excessive city funding,” Shields said.

The foundation for the granite wall and obelisks has already been laid, and they will be erected later this month, once the ground is firm enough to support a crane, Palmer said.

The park already features the anchor of the USS Kiska, a Navy ship in service during the Vietnam War, and has space to add additional military equipment in the future. The park sits on a 6.2-acre piece of land that lies to the north of Columbia Mall.

Construction on the memorial park is scheduled to be finished in early November. A ceremony will be held to dedicate the park when construction is complete, though the date has yet to be worked out.