UPDATE: The Orlando City Council, on Oct. 23, approved a purchase of the property that housed the Pulse nightclub for $2 million.
A long fight about the future of Pulse nightclub could be on the verge of resolution as the city of Orlando moves ahead with purchasing the site.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced Wednesday that he wants the city to make an offer for the site of the 2016 Pulse shooting, still the deadliest attack on LGBTQ individuals in American history.
The Orlando City Council on Monday will consider offering $2 million for the Pulse nightclub. The plan from that point would be the construction of a somber memorial.
“Creating a memorial to the victims of the Pulse tragedy has been a challenging endeavor, with the current plan for the memorial to be built somewhere besides the actual Pulse site,” Dyer said in a statement to media.
“We recently had the opportunity to meet with and listen to some of the family members of the victims, as well as survivors. They expressed their strong desire for a lasting memorial to be located on the Pulse site,” he said. “The hurt and pain they shared — now more than seven years since the tragedy — only solidified our belief that the 49 angels deserve a permanent memorial on the Pulse site.”
The plans for the city to buy the site take place more than seven years after the shooting. Omar Mateen, a shooter pledging allegiance to ISIS, entered the club on June 12, 2016, and killed 49 people before dying in a standoff with police.
The shooting took place on Latin night, and most victims were Latino and/or LGBTQ.
Survivors of the attack say a memorial on site is long overdue.
“It’s past time to create a permanent space created for and by the community where people can grieve, reflect, and honor those stolen,” said Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the shooting who now works as press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. “I’m grateful to the mayor for leading us forward on this.”
But it’s been a difficult road, and it’s still unclear whether the end is near. City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, an out elected official whose district includes the Pulse nightclub, noted the city previously had entered talks with Pulse owners. The city in 2016 voted to pay $2.25 million to club owner Barbara Poma, but she pulled out of talks. The following year, Poma helped found the onePULSE Foundation and announced plans for a museum at the shooting site and a scholarship fund.
But in recent months, the relationship between Poma and the foundation devolved, and the two parted ways.
Central to the dispute, the foundation intended to buy the site from Poma, but in financial disclosures discovered she had already been paid a substantial sum from insurance for her losses.
“The onePULSE Foundation Board of Trustees found it no longer appropriate to pay the Pomas for the nightclub property after recently discovering that insurance proceeds paid off debt for the nightclub and asked for a full donation from them and their business partner, Michael Panaggio,” onePulse Foundation spokesperson Scott Bowman told the Orlando NBC affiliate in May.
It’s unclear what will happen with the millions of dollars in donations that were raised by the onePulse Foundation. In 2021, Ricky Martin was named a national spokesperson for the foundation.
Also in 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation designating the Pulse site a national monument.
Poma still owns the land, and Sheehan noted the owner must agree to the city’s offer, which is lower than the one rejected by Poma in 2016.
“I don’t care who did what to whom anymore,” Sheehan said, “and neither does the mayor. We have families and survivors who deserve to have a respectful memorial.”
She said the city plans for a simple memorial, not a full museum. Other reflection sites set up in the city in the wake of the tragedy have temporarily served those affected by the tragedy.
“Families want something where their kids died, and that’s appropriate,” she said.
Dyer feels confident a proper deal will come together.
“In the interest of solving challenges in a way that brings our community together in love, acceptance and partnership, which is the enduring legacy of Pulse, we have decided to purchase the land from its current owners,” he said. “We believe that this is the best and most appropriate way to expedite the creation of a proper memorial for the Pulse tragedy.
“Given that the City has not been a part of this process, our plan is to first acquire the land, and then determine the appropriate next steps. We are committed to taking a thoughtful, collaborative approach to understand the history of the effort to create a memorial up until this point, and then working with the victims’ families and survivors to ensure there is a memorial at the Pulse site that honors the victims, those impacted by the tragedy and pays tribute to the resiliency of Orlando.”
Some survivors said they were just pleased to see some forward motion.
“Well, I am glad and pleased that something is going to be done finally; can’t depend on Barbara anymore as well as the onePulse Foundation,” survivor Orlando Torres told The Advocate. “It’s been seven years too long, going on eight years. Hopefully, the city of Orlando can build the memorial soon. Barbara should have sold it from the beginning, and that third party would have been paid off a long time ago!”
Survivor Chris Hansen, however, is upset that the Poma family will profit.
“It’s about time that the City Beautiful stands up to the Poma owners, who have exploded our tragedy and lives from night one!” Hansen said. “The city shouldn’t have to purchase the land from them, because the corruption alone is enough to acquire the land where 49 lives were stolen from ever living their truth. More than 53 were injured for just having fun, and about 200+ others were lucky enough to have made it out of our unforgettable and horrifying rage against our LGBTQIA+ and QLatinx Community,” Hansen said.
“How dare the Pomas think, believe, and continue to collect on our grief, pain, and torment. How dare they enrich their lives and vacation the world on funds that should be available to help gain a better life for us surviving Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting victims and families,” Hansen said.
“Our 49 beloved angels deserve to not be forgotten and have a permanent dancing place for their loved ones, friends, and our community to go to and share tribute, love, comfort, support, and mourn. Our 49 beloved angels didn’t ask to be violently broadcast on the payroll of the Poma legacy! We have waited far too long for this opportunity to happen and for the right thing to be done have been done, but enough is enough. … Our lives are not like an arcade; game over!”
This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.