- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

Construction on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial drew near Thursday when a panel overseeing architecture in the nation’s capital approved final building plans.

The 8-2 vote by the National Capital Planning Commission is one of the last steps in a lengthy approval process for the $120 million project. However, the panel rejected a National Park Service recommendation for security bollards - short metal posts - that would help block a truck bomb from reaching the site.

The agency had identified a security threat by extremist groups “spouting racist ideologies,” which would work against King’s legacy, said Park Service Associate Regional Director Peter May. Details were discussed behind closed doors, with the panel later deciding against the barricades.

“When we begin to hide behind walls and barriers and gates,” that goes against King’s ideals, said commission Chairman John V. Cogbill III. “I think it would be an embarrassment to the family and to the memory of Dr. King.”

Memorial designers also said barriers would have taken away from their concept, which follows King’s ideals for nonviolence, openness and inclusion.

Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the project, said approval was still needed from the Commission on Fine Arts, which criticized an earlier design. He plans to present final changes to the panel on Sept. 18.

The commission had said the depiction of King was too “confrontational” and asked to see a new model.

Mr. Jackson said they have made artistic changes to the King sculpture but not as a response to critics.

“Confrontational and sincere may be two sides of the same coin,” Mr. Jackson said. “I don’t believe it is confrontational. What I do believe is it has garnered the endorsement of [King’s] children.”

Once the arts panel signs off, the memorial foundation can apply to the Park Service for a permit to build on the Mall. The foundation hopes to do that by November before congressional permission for the project expires. Otherwise, the group would have to ask for an extension.

The memorial will be located on the Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, surrounded by cherry trees. It will be the first memorial honoring a black leader on the Mall and the first major tribute to King outside Atlanta, where he was born in 1929.

About $100 million has been raised for the effort, and the group must raise an additional $20 million to complete the project.

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