It has been said that we are defined by how we react in the face of tragedy. In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, one of the largest terrorist attacks in the U.S. history, the city of Orlando is taking the first steps towards healing. The city has reportedly purchased the now abandoned gay nightclub where 29 year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured another 53 the night of June 12th, 2016. The city reportedly shelled out $2.25 million to purchase the site of the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States with the intention of creating a memorial to its victims. What form that memorial will take remains to be seen—city officials have said that they will seek input from the community in regards to what they would like to see the former nightclub become. Some debate exists as to whether or not the site should be transformed—perhaps through sculpture, statue, or other art—or left entirely alone. Until quite recently, the former hotspot of the thriving Orlando LGBT community remained somewhat of a mournful image, its border of chain-link fencing surrounding the property juxtaposed with a slew of flowers, signs, candles, and rainbow paraphernalia in honor of the 49 deceased and the countless others left emotionally scarred by the attack. As of September the fencing was replaced with a somewhat more cheerful barricade featuring the work of Orlando artists reacting to the tragedy.
Either way Orlando natives lean—dress it up or leave it be—the city’s acquisition of the property may go a long way towards addressing certain day-to-day concerns, such as pedestrian foot traffic and parking concerns for visitors and mourners paying their respects. Even in its heyday street parking was usually the way to go at Pulse, and the resulting overflow has caused problems for neighborhood residents and business owners, many of whom have been dealing with financial consequences following the shooting.
In fact, small business owners operating on Orange Ave have garnered media buzz alongside talk of the impending memorial. Senator Marco Rubio has expressed interest in redirecting some of the money which was crowd funded from members of the local community and concerned individuals around the world after the shooting to business owners whose establishments on Orange Avenue may have been negatively impacted by the drop in foot traffic and business that occurred after the shooting took place. Although estimates vary as to exactly how much was raised in support of the Orlando nightclub victims, reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of $17 million from various sources was crowd funded in honor of the deceased and their families. As much as $29.5 million was raised as a part of the OneOrlando fund, which donated funds to the families of the 49 killed, as well as to those injured and those in attendance at the club that evening. While Rubio stressed that the main beneficiaries of donated funds should obviously be the families of the victims themselves, he also emphasized that there needs to be some sort of compensation outside of loan funding for small business owners who were indirectly impacted by the tragedy. Some business owners have expressed discomfort at the proposal, indicating they believe the funds should be allocated to whom they were originally donated—the victims of the attack (see more here).
The question in regards to the proposed memorial is really this—would we rather leave a skeleton on Orange Avenue, a soon-to-be rusted out shell of a building that will always be sobering to look at, despite the stuffed animals and pride flags out front? Or would we rather leave less of a gravestone, more of a bed of flowers? Something that points towards a future of acceptance and tolerance, that represents the strengthening of ties in the community which resulted from this tragedy, when the hate that incited it only sought to tear us apart. Only time will tell what the citizens of Orlando decide they want to see on Orange Avenue where Pulse once stood—a solemn reminder, or hope for a new and inclusive future.