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Pulse Foundation Dissolved as Florida County Scrutinizes Its Financials

Pulse Orlando Bar
Image: Facebook @PulseOrlando

The onePulse Foundation formed shortly after the shooting at the Orlando gay club, the deadliest attack on LGBTQ+ people in U.S. history. Now, the foundation's financials are being questioned by local authorities.

The foundation formed to create a permanent museum at the site of the Pulse shooting formally dissolved. Now, elected officials in Central Florida want to know what happened with millions in public investment for the site.

The onePulse Foundation formed shortly after the shooting at the Orlando gay club. The shooting remains the deadliest attack on LGBTQ+ people in U.S. history. Shooter Omar Mateen entered the club on Latin Night, June 12, 2016, and killed 49 people, most of them Latino or queer.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who served as sheriff at the time of the 2016 shooting, addressed the matter Tuesday morning. Orange County, where Orlando is located, in 2018 committed $10 million to the foundation to cover designs for a museum. Florida also promised $500,000 for construction costs, of which $400,000 already has been paid out. That means public dollars made up the bulk of the $20 million raised by the foundation over its existence.

But in October, the foundation announced it would not proceed with plans for a museum. Last week, board trustees voted to dissolve the foundation altogether.

At that point, Orange County officials said, the foundation had already spent more than $6.5 million in county dollars buying land and designing a museum.

George Kalogridis, vice chair of the foundation, spoke to officials and suggested the enthusiasm for the memorial in the aftermath of the shooting was high.

“We did an amazing job making sure to spend time in different cities where these tragedies had taken place to understand what works, what didn’t work,” he said.

Much of that travel was done by Pulse owner Barbara Poma, the founding executive director of the foundation. But Poma’s relationship with the foundation crumbled this year and she parted ways with the organization.

Kalogridis also said that as time passed after the tragedy, corporate support for the foundation dwindled when it came to long-term support for a museum. When the pandemic hit, it came more difficult to find individual support. Meanwhile, the estimated costs for the project climbed.

Demings said the memorial had been a collaborative community effort.

“However, as a county we have to do our due diligence,” he said. “Because of the contractual relationship we had with the expenditures of the people’s money, and going forward given the dissolution that is underway, there are some contractual things that have to take place.”

Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond has called for the foundation to hand over financial documents for an audit, and the county could place a lien on the organization’s properties. The foundation brought substantial surrounding property for the museum.

Of note, the City of Orlando recently authorized a $2 million offer to buy the site of the Pulse nightclub itself.

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