onePULSE Foundation says it’s time to shrink down plans for Pulse museum and memorial

Tribune Content Agency

ORLANDO, Fla. — The onePULSE Foundation is scaling down plans for a museum and memorial as it tries to move past losing control of the former nightclub property.

Deborah Bowie, executive director of the foundation, said the organization has narrowed down a few options for a future memorial and is currently working toward converting the 47,000-square-foot industrial building it owns in Orlando’s SoDo neighborhood into a new museum.

“The reality is, if the organization is committed to being a change maker in the space — meaning connecting people in the conversation to lead to change and setting a legacy of what the past tragedy means in terms of getting people to take up on the gay community — then it’s not about the building,” she said. “It’s more about what you do with the building.”

Bowie said board members decided to push the brakes on the Pulse memorial and museum in late January after learning it could cost as much as $100 million to build the project designed by Coldefy and Orlando-based HHCP Architects in 2019.

“That was concerning, not just because that’s a lot of money to raise privately, but because a structure that large with that kind of price tag also means you’re going to have a really hefty operations budget,” she said.

Meanwhile, some original plans are still in motion, like the “survivors walk,” which will link the former club on South Orange Avenue to the hospital is underway with utility work in progress, onePULSE officials said.

The costs for new plans are unclear, but according to an initial application to Orange County’s tourist development tax board, the foundation is contemplating asking for another $10 million in TDT funding to “convert and create a multi-use space” on Kaley Street that will include a museum. Records show the project is estimated to cost $15 million.

Bowie said new plans for its adaptive reuse project are still in the early stages, but she hopes the museum could become a communal space for local LGBTQ+ nonprofits.

“We’ve got all this additional space now to be thinking about how can it benefit the community,” she said. “Particularly how can it benefit a lot of these organizations that have grown up and are still continuing to expand.”

In 2018, the foundation was awarded $10 million in Orange County tourism tax revenue to acquire the property for the museum, which it did in 2019 — paying $3.5 million for a 1.7-acre parcel at 438 West Kaley Street.

The acquisition also set up a deadline to build the museum within seven years of the recorded deed, meaning the foundation has until September 2026 to complete the museum or the property would be turned over to the county.

It’s the same year Orlando will mark 10 years since the massacre.

Pam Schwartz, chief curator at the Orange County Regional History Center, said it’s important to have something that commemorates the tragedy.

“Orlando would never be the same after (Pulse),” Schwartz said. “There are these huge moments in history that change a place. It alters the fabric of where we live and this is certainly one of those events.”

New plans for the memorial and museum follows a leadership transition a year ago when Bowie was hired in June. She succeeded its founder, Barbara Poma, who officially departed from the organization in April.

In her former role with the onePULSE Foundation, Poma spent years spearheading an effort to create a memorial and museum to honor the 49 lives lost in the Pulse 2016 massacre. But survivors and families of victims of the Pulse shooting held issue with her role in the foundation as a partial owner of the nightclub and her annual salary, at times reaching as much as $150,000 a year.

In early May, the foundation announced it could not reach an agreement with Poma and the other nightclub property owners to donate the land to the charity.

As a result, the foundation is exploring whether to build a memorial at the museum property; build a memorial on a site next to the former nightclub; or potentially build two memorials.

“There is concern about what’s going to happen to the nightclub site. We don’t own it. We have no idea what the owners are going to do with it,” Bowie said. “And there’s a third option of maybe two memorials, where you’ve got something very simple and respectful on the property adjacent to the club and then you can still do a memorial down the street.”

A survey inquiring how family members and survivors feel about some options for the future of the memorial site is in the works, according to Bowie.

In an effort to gain more community support, the organization also cut down its number of board members from 22 to 15, and is looking to onboard survivors and family members and invite more to meet with current members.

“Those conversations are happening now and I’m excited about that,” Bowie said. “I’d like to have more.”