A series of tribute parks memorializing local heroes and famous residents, and recognizing the city’s connection to Kosovo, may be part of Norwalk’s multimillion dollar plan to build a new city center.
The development, dubbed Norwalk Central, is “this idea of a walkable hub that brings together commercial opportunity, office opportunity, active opportunities for youth, for adults, for families and for all of your community alike,” according to Norwalk City Council heard from Adam Mekies.
Ideas for the tribute parks include a Superheroes Plaza that would honor local heroes and veterans and the Nor-Walk of Fame, which would be a Hollywood Walk of Fame-style tribute to famous people from Norwalk.
It could be a decade before the Norwalk Central concept is completed, according to Norwalk Economic Development Director Hollie Zajicek. And the parks would likely fit somewhere in the middle of that timeline.
Zajicek said city officials would look for outside funding for the parks, including sponsorships, donations and applicable grants.
NorWalk of Fame
Norwalk has produced a number of big names in sports and entertainment, including actors Jason Momoa and Brandon Routh, baseball players Joel Hanrahan and Matt Dermody, and UFC fighter Jeremy Stephens, among others who could be included in the proposed NorWalk of Fame.
Momoa played the titular character in 2018’s “Aquaman,” and is also famous for his roles in TV shows “Game of Thrones” and “Baywatch.” Routh played Superman in the 2006 film “Batman Returns, among other memorable roles. Both grew up in Norwalk and played high school soccer together before becoming Hollywood superheroes.
Hanrahan was an All-Star pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates who played seven seasons in Major League Baseball.
Zajicek said city officials have been inspired by similar ideas in cities like Shenandoah, which has a Walk of Fame paying tribute to 125 famous Iowans and others, and Clear Lake, which has a memorial to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, died nearby in a 1959 plane crash.
The Superheroes Plaza “would be primarily for military members, veterans, police and fire first responders who went above and beyond. They did something that put them above and beyond what their normal call of duty would be,” Zajicek said.
Norwalk regularly gives out Superhero awards to honor some of those who fly under the radar — and to give a nod to those who draw the spotlight.
Celebrities like Routh and Dermody have won the award in the past as well as active duty military from Norwalk and veterans like Retired Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Pierce, a former Norwalk mayor and Iowa Air National Guard fighter pilot.
“We are a very military-strong community and we are a Home Base Iowa community, we have several cool veterans groups,” she said.
The city would first pull from those who have won the Superhero award but Zajicek thinks a committee could eventually be formed to decide who else to recognize at the park.
Development in Norwalk could also prompt the city to move the Warren County Veteran’s Memorial to the park from its location at Warrior Run Golf Course. Zajicek said this would be a decision made by a different entity like Warren County to decide.
Norwalk has a unique connection with a city in Eastern Europe that Zajicek said the city wants to recognize.
Vushtirri, a city in the country of Kosovo, became Norwalk’s sister city shortly after the country opened an embassy in Iowa in 2016. Since then, Norwalk has tried to build a deeper connection through this relationship by sending delegations to the country every year and recognizing the country.
Norwalk is planning to build a replica of a historic stone bridge in Vushtirri in Elizabeth Holland Park to recognize the connection between the two cities.
Zajicek said this bridge has existed since the Roman Empire had control of the region and the Sitnica River that used to run underneath has since moved far away from the bridge’s location.
Zajicek works closely with Kosovo and the Iowa National Guard to build Norwalk’s sister city bonds with Vushtirri and helps manage the American Economic Zone program.
She said Norwalk’s connection to Kosovo is amazing to her and this project is a great way to help bridge the two cities.
“It’s just a cool country… I’ve never met people like Kosovars ever in my life,” she said. “They are so humble and grateful and absolutely love Americans.”
George Shillcock is the Register’s Des Moines southern suburbs reporter. He can be reached at GShillcock@registermedia.com and on twitter @ShillcockGeorge
Original posted at www.desmoinesregister.com