onePulse board of trustees chairman resigns amid fallout over memorial plans

Rabines, Amanda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

The chair of the onePulse Foundation Board of Trustees is resigning following the fallout of the nonprofit’s inability to build a memorial at the site of the Pulse tragedy where 49 people were killed seven years ago.

In a statement released Thursday, the foundation said Chairman Earl Crittenden Jr. is stepping away from his role to allow the foundation to move forward in accomplishing its mission and providing assistance needed to help the community realize a national Pulse memorial.

His last day will be Tuesday.

“I am very proud of what this organization has accomplished in the last six-and-a-half years,” said Crittenden, in the statement. “The Pulse Interim Memorial has brought comfort and solace to countless thousands of people, many of whom came from all over the world to Orlando to bear witness to the unthinkable tragedy of June 12, 2016, that impacted all our hearts.”

Crittenden has been involved with onePulse Foundation since its early inception, which was launched in 2017 by one of the Pulse nightclub’s property owners, Barbara Poma. She opened the gay-friendly nightclub in 2004 in tribute to her older brother, John, who died of AIDS in 1991.

Poma co-founded the onePulse Foundation, in the aftermath of the nightclub shooting. She served as its executive director before leaving the organization earlier this year. The foundation was established to research, design and construct a memorial to honor and remember all those affected by the tragedy. It also crafted plans to build a museum to showcase stories from the event, but its has struggled to accomplish those missions.

Crittenden, an attorney for GrayRobinson who also volunteers as chief of protocol at the office for the mayor in the city of Orlando, worked closely with Poma for years until a deal among the foundation, she and other property owners fell flat. The foundation wanted the property to be donated, while one of the three property owners did not agree to donate the land.

According to the foundation, Crittenden’s term on the board expired in May, however he remained on the board while helping the organization try to negotiate a full donation of the Pulse nightclub property.

“The foundation, of course, has not achieved everything we set out to do and probably, the most notable was the consequence of not receiving a donation of the nightclub property to the foundation from the property’s ownership this year, despite everyone’s efforts,” he said in the statement.

News of his resignation comes days after Orlando City Commissioners decided to take charge of efforts to purchase the Pulse nightclub after real estate negotiations between the foundation and the nightclub owners reached an impasse.

A unanimous vote by Orlando city commissioners on Monday sets in motion a property deal that’s expected to close on Friday.

In the Thursday statement, Crittenden said he wholeheartedly applauds the city’s efforts.

“This time of transition is one that should also include new board leadership to guide the foundation with any new collaborative opportunities with the city and the community that lie ahead,” he said.

The foundation’s board of trustees now has 11 members, with several future appointments pending, Bowman said. There is no decision currently to fill the board chair position.

After botched plans, the foundation intended to build a memorial somewhere other than the location of the club, causing distress to many survivors and family members of victims who wished to see a memorial at the site of the tragedy.

In recent months, dozens of Pulse survivors and family members of victims asked government officials to step in.

“We seek your compassion and help in ensuring that the site of the tragedy of Pulse Night club serves as the proper and only location for this memorial,” read one group email to the mayors of Orange County and Orlando. “No other location makes sense to honor the loved ones we have lost.”

Critics of the foundation gripe over the minimal progress made toward the memorial. Others worry about what money was raised and subsequently lost after the foundation announced earlier this year it would be reimagining plans for a memorial and museum.

The foundation conducted surveys with thousands of participants and arranged an international design competition to select plans of a museum and memorial, ultimately choosing designs by Coldefy & Associés with RDAI and Orlando-based HHCP Architects in 2019. But when costs for the museum and memorial skyrocketed to as much as $100 million, the foundation opted out of completing those depictions.

Zachary Blair, a community organizer with the Pulse Families and Survivors for Justice collective, said it’s time for the foundation to step aside.

“The onePulse Foundation has spent millions in donations and public funds designing and developing a museum project that has been, and should have been, abandoned,” said Blair. “Now, it’s time for them to close their doors, stop collecting and conduct a forensic audit.”

During the pandemic, the foundation admits to struggling to raise money, like many nonprofits during the time.

In spite of that, onePulse has awarded 196 scholarships since its inception, of which 16 have been awarded to Pulse family members and 14 have been awarded to Pulse survivors. Two Pulse first responders were also awarded scholarships from the foundation.

Over the last several years, its educational program has put on free film screenings, art performances and live audience discussions that promote social acceptance and unity.

George Kalogridis, vice chair of the board of trustees, praised Crittenden for his leadership.

“Working with Earl on this important mission has been an honor,” he said in a statement. “While we all hoped for a better outcome, Earl worked tirelessly for more than six years toward honoring the lives lost and lives forever changed due to the Pulse tragedy…I am confident that an appropriate memorial will now be built upon the solid foundation of work in which Earl was an integral part.”

arabines@orlandosentinel.com