It was October, 2018 when the operators of the new-in-town American Freedom Distillery announced the creation of Rise St. Pete, a nonprofit collaboration with the Warehouse Arts District Association.
The organization’s goal was to create a monument to the American spirit, centered around a section of steel beam salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Center in the wake of September 11, 2001.
Ground was broken for the site, near the intersection of 5th Avenue and 22nd Street South, with sculptor Mark Aeling unveiling elaborate designs for the memorial, including an enormous steel bird’s wing, the symbol of a “phoenix rising.”
Nearly three years passed. The first physical work on the Rise St. Pete memorial – the construction of an arched concrete background, which will be covered with community-crafted tiles – began two weeks ago.
“Covid got in the way, and really impacted fundraising,” Aeling said Monday. “We had some funds initially, we got things off the ground, I got the bulk of the wing fabricated and then we had to pull back. Because we were out of funds.”
With the pandemic receding, fundraising resumed. “We have got, I would say, 75 percent of the funds together,” reported Aeling, WADA president. “And we have a number of fundraisers coming up. So we’re confident that we’ll be able to pull the remainder of the budget together by 9-11 of this year.”
American Freedom founder and Rise St. Pete director Scott Neil said that the pandemic, and the rocky presidential election season, “kind of distracted from our effort to tell the public about our need for this project.
“But now, as we get closer to 9-11, and the 20th anniversary, this is going to become present in everybody’s mind. So as we go to finish this project, it really is a statement not about the day of 9-11 but the day after. When the community came together.”
The project’s budget, Aeling said, is “right around $450,000.” When it was first announced, in 2018, the projected figure was $1 million. A fountain – budgeted at $250,000 – has been removed from the original design. “Between the maintenance and the additional cost,” Aeling said, “it was decided that it would be best to remove that component.”
Finger crossed. “All of this is with the caveat that we’re still dealing with Covid, and transportation and logistical challenges with materials. Our goal is to have about 80 percent complete.”
Residents are invited to create ceramic tiles to be used as part of the monument Saturday (July 31) from 4 to 9 p.m. Meet at the semi-circle sculpture in progress.