OnePulse Foundation forfeits remaining tourist tax dollars from the county, gives up on museum

The local group calling for ‘No Pulse Museum’ seems to have achieved its goal.

click to enlarge OnePulse Foundation forfeits remaining tourist tax dollars from the county, gives up on museum
Photo by Joey Roulette

The nonprofit OnePulse Foundation, founded after one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, has announced it is giving up its plan to build a museum to commemorate the tragedy, which had drawn criticism from some of the shooting survivors as a way to exploit and profit from their trauma.

In the nonprofit’s announcement Friday, leadership shared they will be returning all unused tourist tax development funds committed to the nonprofit by the Orange County government in 2018. As of this September, $6.5 million has already been spent on design services for the museum and a 1.7-acre land purchase at 438 W. Kaley St.

Earl Crittenden, chairman of OnePulse through next Monday, shared in a statement, “After careful consideration regarding the scope of our proposed projects, including conversations with victims’ families, survivors, and the local community, as well as unforeseen challenges, the onePULSE Foundation Board of Trustees has decided it is no longer feasible to move forward with the plan to develop a museum.”

This does not affect plans to build a permanent memorial on the former Pulse property, which is a separate project that wasn't eligible for TDT funding.

In a meeting today with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, OnePulse says it offered to terminate its agreement with the county for the remaining tourist tax development funds, which were initially awarded to the nonprofit for the purpose of designing the proposed museum and buying property for it.

Mayor Demings confirmed that the county has accepted the nonprofit’s offer, and says that the county will hold onto its remaining unused funds.

“The Foundation presented a letter from its board, expressing their decision to no longer proceed with the project,” explained Demings in his own statement shared with the media Friday afternoon. “I understand how difficult this decision was for the foundation and the future of the organization is uncertain.”

Contractually, the parcel of land purchased by OnePulse on Kaley Street will be returned to the county. If sold, proceeds will be returned to TDT reserves. The $3 million that onePulse spent on design services, however, are not recoverable, the county confirmed.

The mayor shared that he will be scheduling a board of county commissioners meeting to update the board and “make determinations regarding the next steps for Orange County.”

“We will continue to keep the community informed,” Demings added.

This announcement comes after an emotional meeting of the Orlando City Council Monday, where survivors and family members of the 2016 Pulse massacre provided hours of testimony of the city’s proposed (then approved) purchase of the former nightclub’s property for $2 million — a sale that went through today.

While some survivors of the 2016 shooting praised city leaders for moving forward with the purchase of the property, intended as a site for a permanent memorial, some survivors have also brought into question the continued existence of the OnePulse foundation.

The nonprofit was founded just one month after the mass shooting by club co-owner Barbara Poma with the expressed intent of providing “immediate financial assistance” to affected victims and developing a permanent memorial to honor the lives lost.

A group of shooting survivors, family members of those killed, and community members have called out both Poma and OnePulse for pulling in money off the tragedy.

The organization, headed by Poma until last year, has been criticized in the past for paying its executives six-figure salaries, while some survivors say they still struggle with debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress, as well as medical bills.

Poma, who owned the club with her husband Rosario Poma, left the nonprofit earlier this year after resigning from her role as executive director in 2022. She owned the property along with her husband and businessman Michael Panaggio, until the city's purchase of the Pulse site was finalized today.

Crittenden, who submitted his letter of resignation as chairman of the OnePulse Foundation on Thursday, said, "Now more than ever, it's imperative to realize the much-needed National Pulse Memorial as an everlasting sanctuary of hope to memorialize the 49 Angels." His resignation is effective next Tuesday.

Executive director Deborah Bowie of OnePulse added that, with recent developments, "the onePULSE Foundation Board of Trustees is in the process of reevaluating its mission to make sure it aligns with the new realities."

These "new realities" were not clarified. "We will keep everyone updated as those discussions evolve and decisions are made as to the best way to honor the lives of the 49 Angels and all those impacted by the Pulse tragedy," Bowie concluded.

The group of Pulse survivors that's been openly critical of OnePulse collectively known as the Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum has called for the dissolution of the nonprofit and the redistribution of its funds to survivors and victims' families.

The group is comprised of at least 100 survivors of the shooting, family members of those who died, and allied community members, according to Dr. Zachary Blair, a former Pulse patron and co-founder of the coalition.

Survivors organized with the group have also called on the city of Orlando to conduct a third-party investigation into documented code violations at the property ahead of the construction of a permanent memorial. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer confirmed that such construction — a process that's still in the making — would require the demolition of at least some or all of the nightclub, as it stands today.

Blair, who no longer lives in the state but traveled here for the city meeting Monday, told Orlando Weekly in a statement Friday afternoon that, in addition to a criminal investigation into unpermitted renovations and code violations at Pulse, documented in public records, he also wants to see OnePulse "held accountable for the millions in donations and tax dollars that they wasted."

This is a developing story.

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About The Author

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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