WASILLA — Every November, hundreds of Mat-Su residents gather at the Veterans Wall of Honor near the Parks Highway for a usually blustery ceremony on Veterans Day.
But, after two years in limbo, Wasilla's popular memorial is moving from the scenic but wind-scoured bluff it has occupied for more than 20 years near Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. It will now be in a more protected spot near the future site of Wasilla's new police station at the old Iditarod Elementary School on Wasilla-Fishhook Road.
The move is the result of a partnership of veterans groups, the city of Wasilla, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Mat-Su Health Foundation.
The search for a new location started two years ago after the borough sold the land beneath the wall to new owners.
Moving won't be easy: The memorial's nearly 40 granite panels bear more than 2,300 names of men and women who served. Each large panel weighs over 700 pounds; smaller ones weigh half that.
"We're hoping the next Nov. 11 ceremony will be held at the new location," said J.R. Hackett, an Air Force veteran who serves on the 11-member Mat-Su Honor Wall Foundation board of directors.
The foundation was created about 18 months ago and includes all five veterans groups in the Valley. The board voted unanimously this month to move the wall to the new site, Hackett said.
Wasilla's city council still needs to approve a long-term lease for the wall, Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said. The lease will be introduced in December for hearings and deliberation in January.
"It's taken us a year to get to this point," Cottle said. "I feel bad for the veterans because the one bunch bought it who sold it to another bunch who sold it to another bunch. All they want is closure."
Idaho-based developer Spring Creek Enterprise LLC bought the property beneath the wall in 2015 to build a senior facility. Spring Creek promised to preserve the memorial.
But the company backed out of the project after failing to get full state approval and sold to another developer with a competing senior care proposal in Palmer.
That company sold the property to the Mat-Su Health Foundation, which is finalizing purchase documents now, according to CEO Elizabeth Ripley. The foundation is the hospital's charitable partner.
The land purchase helps the hospital avoid competitors buying land in its front yard, Ripley said.
"It was a strategic opportunity for us to buy land directly in front of the hospital," she said.
The borough dedicated $150,000 to match the same amount from Spring Creek to help move the wall if necessary. Spring Creek didn't pay its share because the development fell through.
The health foundation and the borough will cover the costs, Ripley said.
It's not yet clear how much that will be, several officials said. The borough is going out for architectural bids.
"It's going to be a decent-sized job," Hackett said. "We're not even sure what the ballpark figure might be."
He's hoping that the new memorial park will include a covered space with podium and speaker system for ceremonies.
Over time, the sale of the land from the borough to Spring Creek and then two other owners generated some frustration among the veterans groups, Hackett said.
But "all of that turmoil" is in the past, he said. "We've come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is find a permanent place for the wall."