The city of Orlando has reached a deal to buy the Pulse nightclub for $2.25 million and plans to eventually transform the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history into a memorial.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told the Orlando Sentinel that the city won’t rush to change the club, once a mainstay in the gay community that has become a gathering place for visiting and local mourners alike.
“There are lots of people that are making a visit to the site part of their trip, part of their experience of Orlando, so I think 12 to 18 months of leaving it as is would be appropriate,” Dyer said Monday.
In the meantime, the city plans to solicit ideas from the community for what form the lasting memorial should take. Dyer said the city hasn’t ruled out leaving part of the club intact permanently, such as the roadside sign featuring its now-iconic logo.
The city’s ultimate goal, he said, will be to “create something to honor the memory of the victims that are deceased (and) those that were injured, and a testament to the resilience of our community.”
The price negotiated by city staff is more than the $1.65 million appraised value of the nightclub, a 4,500-square-foot building occupying a third of an acre at South Orange Avenue and West Esther Street.
Dyer said the sale price was a compromise reached during negotiations with the club’s owners, whose attorney did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
The sales contract with the city was signed Friday by Rosario Poma, who owns the club with his wife, Barbara. Orlando’s City Council, which has the final say on the deal, will weigh in on it next week.
The nightclub has been empty since June 12, when a gunman opened fire during a Latin-themed dance party, killing 49 people and wounding dozens more.
Since the massacre, mourners have flowed steadily to the site to pay their respects, leaving behind photos, notes, stuffed animals and other remembrances. Many of the items have since been collected for preservation by the Orange County Regional History Center.
The visitors have at times been disruptive to nearby businesses and residents, creating parking troubles, crowding sidewalks and prompting safety concerns. The club was also the victim of at least one break-in about a month after the tragedy.
There are lots of people that are making a visit to the site part of their trip, part of their experience of Orlando, so I think 12 to 18 months of leaving it as is would be appropriate.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
Dyer said purchasing the property will help with security and safety issues, as the city will no longer need to coordinate with a private owner to enter or change the property.
“Now, we can actually secure it like we would any other piece of city property,” he said.
In September, the city removed the black chain-link fence that had surrounded the club since soon after the shooting, replacing it with a new barrier farther back from the road, wrapped in a screen that features images created by local artists.
Those killed in the Pulse massacre have been commemorated in many ways, but the city has kept mum on the specifics of its plans for a permanent memorial. Dyer first floated the idea of buying the nightclub in a radio interview in August.
The club has already drawn onlookers from across the globe, as far flung as the prime minister of Luxembourg. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton laid flowers outside the club during a visit to Orlando in July.
Dyer said the city will seek memorial ideas from other communities, not unlike how local officials brought in Kenneth Feinberg, a national authority on victim compensation in mass tragedies, to administer the $29.5 million OneOrlando Fund for Pulse shooting victims.
“We’re still gathering information,” Dyer said. “We’re looking around the country for some people that have done something like this before. There are some folks with expertise related to this.”
Barbara Poma opened the bar in 2004, naming it Pulse in honor of her brother John, who died of AIDS in 1991. It was a local landmark in the gay community, often the first bar a gay or lesbian young person would visit in Orlando.
Poma was the first to pledge the Pulse site would become a memorial to those lost, in a statement issued through a spokeswoman days after the killings.