ORLANDO, Fla. – Seven-and-a-half years after a gunman claimed the lives of 49 people inside the Pulse Nightclub, the City of Orlando is picking up the work to create a permanent memorial for grieving families and the community.
Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan told News 6 the memorial is one of her chief priorities as she looks to begin her seventh term in office.
“It’s important for people to understand that this is a new start,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said the “new start” is needed after a summer of turmoil.
The onePulse Foundation, founded by Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma, had planned to build a permanent memorial on the site, but the organization parted ways with her in April.
In May, the foundation announced it would be building a permanent memorial on a different site after Poma’s investment partner refused to donate the land the nightclub sits on to the foundation.
In July, the foundation announced it was terminating its lease of the nightclub property with Poma after it was discovered a temporary-use permit had lapsed.
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On Monday, the foundation’s executive director, Deborah Bowie, announced her immediate resignation.
Tax records show the organization spent more than $7 million on design, construction costs, property purchase and program services associated with the memorial and museum since it was founded, and ground has not been broken.
Sheehan said she separated herself from the organization a few years ago.
“I was on the (onePulse) task force, and I left at year two,” she said. “The wall around the interim memorial was supposed to be pictures of the victims and their stories. When I got there, it was a big ‘community selfie,’ which I think it’s lovely to recognize the way that Orlando responded but not at the expense of what that should have been, which was a memorial. When I asked about it, I was told that it was supposed to be uplifting, so they could sell merchandise. I was so upset that I almost threw up.”
City of Orlando’s plans
Sheehan said families of some the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting approached Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings asking them to help make a permanent memorial a reality.
That resulted in The City of Orlando’s purchase of the Pulse Nightclub property from Poma three weeks ago for $2 million.
Now, she said, the work can begin.
Sheehan said she will be working with Dyer on what to call the memorial project.
She said the project will be financed by donations, which would likely be managed by the Orlando Community and Youth Trust – a nonprofit organization that helps fund the city’s parks and recreation activities, such as Orlando Kidz Zone, My Brothers Keeper and others.
She and other council members are hopeful donations can offset the $2 million spent by the city to purchase the property.
“I’ve already had interested parties who want to make donations come forward, but we need to figure out the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to manage it,” she said.
She said a committee will be formed to help steer the project, but it will also rely on direct input from the victims’ families.
“Something needs to happen there because it really is a big wound -- seeing that awful building with the holes in it, and I don’t even know what condition it’s in,” she said. “There’s differences of opinions -- should we keep the building, should we not? There’s a building that’s been sitting there for seven-and-a-half years with holes in the side, and I kind of doubt that it’s going to be in any condition. We’ll evaluate that.”
“Maybe work with the onePulse people as they phase out,” Sheehan said. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to continue. I think they have to figure out what their role is going to be now, because they’re not doing the museum. They’re not going to be doing the memorial. They need to figure out what their next steps are going to be.”
News 6 contacted the onePulse Foundation to answer that question.
“With all of the recent developments, the onePULSE Foundation Board is in the process of reevaluating its mission to make sure it aligns with the new realities,” said Yolanda Londoño, the onePulse Foundation Board spokeswoman.
An earlier version of this story stated onePulse Foundation spent $7 million on design and construction costs associated with the memorial and museum. That amount was later clarified to include additional project elements.
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