A museum and monument dedicated to women veterans could soon stand at the Pensacola's old Amtrak station building.
Michelle Caldwell, who is behind the nonprofit Monument to Women Veterans, is in the process of raising money for the roughly $2 million project. When finished, the project will include a monument, as well as a museum with conference rooms, a shop and office space for veterans.
"Right now, the biggest need that we have is really creating a culture change. And that's where we see the monument and the museum being such a critical part of that," said Caldwell, a Navy veteran. "We really need to start showing respect to women by recognizing them."
When finished, the monument will be a 35-foot tall flame with a bronze band covered in the names of women veterans. Caldwell said it was designed by Elizabeth MacQueen, known for creating the Four Spirits monument in memory of 16th Street Baptist Church bombings.
The building will include coworking spaces for veteran-owned businesses, as well as two large conference rooms and exhibits, mostly centered around recent achievements by women in the military. For example, Caldwell pointed to Lorna Mahlock, the first black woman to be nominated as a brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"Right now is really when women are really making strides in the military. So we will have much more of a living and active museum," Calwell said.
The museum is planned to go inside of the old Amtrak station, which fell out of use after Amtrak service to the area was stopped following Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The city didn't have the funding available to renovate the building, so staff planned to rent it out and apply the repair costs to rent.
As far as the future of Amtrak, Caldwell said she would support a possible return of the train service, which would likely use the same facility. Today, Amtrak would likely just need a space for passengers to wait and maybe a ticket kiosk. Amtrak officials have not announced any plans to return to Pensacola.
City spokeswoman Kaycee Lagarde said the museum and monument project is still in the early vetting stages from the city's perspective. She said the nonprofit will have to raise some funds before they move forward with a lease.
Caldwell said she believes the museum and monument will have a number of significant impacts, including economic development by hiring local or veteran-owned business to work on the project as well as serving as a recruitment tool for the military.
She also said she hopes the recognition and awareness of women veterans that will come from the project will help with issues like sexual assault in the military. She said she hopes it will help women veterans feel more comfortable to share their stories.
"We're trying to bring awareness to that population because we're still invisible and we don't need to be invisible any more," Caldwell said.
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