The nonprofit behind the project, onePulse Foundation, decided to scrap its plans to build a museum in Orlando because of rising construction costs.
“Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic generated unprecedented fundraising and construction challenges, and our project stalled and rapidly stopped,” wrote foundation board chairman Earl Crittenden in a letter handed to county officials last month, as reported by the New York Times’ Christopher Kuo. “Once the global shutdown eased, we faced escalating construction costs that make the project financially unrealistic to complete as originally conceived.”
Crittenden has also stepped down from his post.
Barbara Poma, the nightclub’s former owner, created the foundation to honor the 49 people who were killed by a gunman on June 12, 2016, as well as more than 50 others who were injured and the emergency personnel who responded to the scene. In April, she parted ways with the charity.
The group had wanted to use public and private funds to build the museum, which would have included a reflecting pool, garden and gift shop.
The planned site for the museum was located a few blocks from the nightclub. Orange County gave $6.5 million to the foundation to help purchase the 1.7-acre plot of land and design the venue. Now that the museum will not move forward, the foundation has agreed to give that land to the county, report Ryan Gillespie and Amanda Rabines of the Orlando Sentinel.
The path forward remains murky. The foundation had also been working on a plan to build a permanent memorial at the nightclub, where an interim memorial now stands. It had been leasing the site from Poma, her husband and a business partner, but it terminated the lease this summer when negotiations broke down regarding the full donation of the property, as Fox 35 News reported in July.
Last month, the city agreed to buy the property for $2 million. The specifics of who will be involved in the development of the memorial moving forward are unclear, though the city appears to be taking the lead. The fate of the foundation itself is also now in question.
Plans to build the museum and memorial, which were projected to cost $45 million, have been controversial. A group called the Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum—made up of survivors, victims’ family members and activists—formed to fight the project.
“We demand a tasteful and respectful public memorial to honor our loved ones where one can come to reflect, not a tourist attraction that charges admissions and sells mass shooting merchandise in a gift shop to capture ‘off-season’ dollars,” writes the group in an open letter on its website. “We believe that mass shootings should never be made into a spectacle or a source of revenue.”
Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer said in a statement that the city is committed to working with survivors and victims’ families on any memorial plans, adding: “Creating a memorial to the victims of the Pulse tragedy has been a challenging endeavor.”
In an opinion piece for the Orlando Sentinel, columnist Scott Maxwell echoes that sentiment, writing that the community now needs to find a way to move forward.
“Debate and controversy seemed to have dominated the entire conversation, overshadowing what should’ve been the primary goal all along—honoring the victims,” he adds.