Orlando city council votes unanimously to purchase Pulse property

The city plans to build a memorial on the spot dedicated to the 49 people killed in the 2016 shootings.

click to enlarge Orlando city council votes unanimously to purchase Pulse property
Photo by J.D. Castro
Days after Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the city's plans to buy the Pulse nightclub property, city leaders Monday approved the purchase.

After fielding public comment and holding an at times emotional discussion on the land purchase, the Orlando City Council voted unanimously to approve the $2 million land purchase as part of the council's consent agenda in a Monday afternoon meeting. The sale of the property is set to close Friday, Oct. 27.

Dyer previously said the city aims to build a permanent memorial for the 49 victims and survivors of the 2016 shooting at the club, which at the time it occurred had been  the deadliest modern mass shooting in U.S. history.

"We recently met with some families of the victims, and survivors of the Pulse tragedy, who shared their desire for a permanent memorial at the Pulse site," Dyer shared Oct. 18 in a statement posted to X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

The nightclub, located south of downtown on South Orange Avenue, is currently home to an interim memorial dedicated to victims of the 2016 massacre, and has remained a source of controversy since.

A number of survivors, families of victims and community members have advocated for a permanent, public memorial at the site of the former LGBTQ+ club. Those calls came amid a series of changing plans and relations between property owners and the OnePulse Foundation, a nonprofit established shortly after the tragedy to provide immediate financial assistance to affected victims and to develop a memorial to the lives lost. The organization, founded by Pulse co-owner Barbara Poma, has drawn criticism in the past for paying its staff six-figure salaries while memorial plans remain in flux.

The city of Orlando is now stepping in after the OnePulse foundation has failed to reach a deal with the site owners in the seven years since the shootings. Mayor Buddy Dyer, who's running for re-election this year, sits on the OnePulse Chairman's Ambassador Council.

The Pulse site is owned by Barbara Poma, her husband Rosario Poma, and Florida businessman Michael Panaggio. Barbara Poma was formerly the executive director of the OnePulse Foundation, until she stepped down from the position last year and left the organization entirely this spring.

Critics of Poma's leadership, including a group of Pulse survivors, family members of victims, and other community members have raised questions over the years of alleged code violations at the property ahead of the shooting. Rumors of blocked exits persist, though they have not been proven. Some now worry the city is buying the property in order to cover these alleged violations up, which the city has disputed.

"There is no cover-up here," asserted city commissioner Patty Sheehan on Monday, growing emotional on the dais as she shared that she struggled emotionally herself in the aftermath of the shooting, losing sleep for months. "If there are unpermitted renovations, the city didn't know about it."

Sheehan, who's been critical of the OnePulse Foundation in the past, said she's met with 38 of the 49 families who lost a loved one as a result of the shooting. While acknowledging concerns from some family over giving the Pomas money for the property, Sheehan remained firm that this was the best way to move forward at this time. "I can tell you right now, the only way that we're going to be able to move forward as a community is to get possession of the property so that we can build a proper memorial."

The city previously announced it had been involved in a deal to purchase the site $2.25 million, but one or more of the owners ultimately backed out. Mayor Dyer admitted during Monday's meeting that he was "actually a little bit relieved" that initial deal fell through.

Commissioner Jim Gray said the property was appraised at $700,000.

In 2019, OnePulse announced plans for a museum and memorial to honor victims. The proposed plans included a reflecting pool and a grove of 49 trees around the club, but the foundation said earlier this year it would scale back plans due to rising costs.

Dyer admitted that he disagreed with "a lot of things that they did and how they went about doing it," without clarifying what exactly he disagreed with. "Do I want to pay them [the Pomas] $2 million? No, I don't really want to pay $2 million."

"I would have rather seen the property donated either to us or to OnePulse, but that's not where we are," Dyer continued. "I'm looking at this from an elevation of what is best for our community, what is best for the families of the victims or survivors in our community as a whole."

"This family shouldn't get one more cent," said commissioner Tony Ortiz, of the Pomas. "The problem is, they own the property."

Several city commissioners brought up the idea of having the city identify an independent way to raise funds for the land purchase, so the $2 million price tag isn't on the taxpayers. "We can raise that money," said Ortiz. Dyer was agreeable to this idea.

At the same time, commissioners and Dyer emphasized a need to move forward. Dyer said although he didn't have a plan at that very moment for fundraising the $2 million to offset the cost of the purchase, a plan would be coming soon.

"We will have one shortly," said Dyer, sharing that it will be "open and transparent" and "inclusive of the families of the victims and inclusive of survivors and anybody else that wants to participate in some fashion."

Subscribe to Orlando Weekly newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | or sign up for our RSS Feed

About The Authors

Chloe Greenberg

Chloe Greenberg is the Digital Content Editor for Orlando Weekly.

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.
Scroll to read more Orlando Area News articles


Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.