On June 12, 2016, a gunman entered the PULSE Nightclub in Orlando, FL, a gay bar in the center of the city. It was the worst mass shooting at the time where tragically, 49 LGBTQ people were murdered and 53 more were injured. Shortly after the shooting, the owners of the nightclub started the OnePulse Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit to create a memorial for the victims and their families. It was promised as a museum so people can learn more about the event in 2016, anti-LGBTQ hate and terrorism.
But over 7 years later, the museum still doesn't exist, and now the Foundation no longer exists either.
Over the years, they have brought in millions of dollars of donations with the promise of creating this museum to honor the victims. According to their required federal filings, from 2018 to 2022, the organization raised over 18 million dollars. In 2022 alone, they raised another $2.2 Million and so far in 2023, they raised another $7 Million. This brings the total to more than $27.2 Million raised for the museum (not counting anything raised from 2016 to 2018 which is the first filing we could find info on).
In a shocking move, shortly after Governor Ron DeSantis took office, he did something good for the LGBTQ community in Florida. Many of our community, including our show, have criticized DeSantis for his anti-LGBTQ talk on campaign trails and his "Don't Say Gay" laws preventing anyone from having pictures of their spouses on their desks in school because he's afraid it will turn the kids gay.
But in 2019, shortly after he took office, DeSantis promised the OnePulse Foundation over $500,000 to help their effort in building the museum. And so far, he's lived up to that promise with the state sending the foundation $394,321 of that grant. It is worth noting that grants are typically not given in giant lump sums - they are given in small amounts over time so this is typical nationwide.
For years now, it's been a promise of the Foundation that they will have the museum completed "next year". In 2018, it was meant to be opened in 2019. In 2019, it was meant to open in 2020. And so on. But the opening date was never finalized and reportedly, no sizable work has been completed around the building other than installing a fence around the property with some printed graphics by local artists.
This year, the OnePulse Foundation said they were going bankrupt due to a lack of donations. But they brought in over $7 Million this year alone and they're a non-profit so there's no such thing as property taxes. So, where did all the money go if it wasn't being spent on the construction or the property? That's a question many people, including families of the 102 victims are asking right now.
Well, some of that money went to buying another property at 125 N. Lucerne Circle E. in Orlando. This new property is 1.2 miles away from the old Pulse Nightclub where the shooting happened and where the museum would eventually be located. That property is the new office of OnePulse Foundation but as you'll learn in a moment, it may have never been needed at all.
This year, after they dissolved their foundation, democratic and republican lawmakers in Florida are asking for that $394K back. The state has promised that the $500,000 grant will still go to the next organization that takes over the effort to build the memorial and museum. Since the OnePulse Foundation is dissolved (and considering they didn't do what they promised to do for 7 years now), the state doesn't trust the OnePulse Foundation to give the money to the new organization taking over. Instead, the state wants the money back and will grant it again to the organization taking over the effort.
As part of the grant process, the state does have the right to do this and the state has promised in writing to give the money to the new organization. So, it shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? Well, the OnePulse Foundation said in a statement "...Last week the foundation hired legal counsel who is reviewing the appropriate steps needed to carry out the board's decision and comply with applicable Florida Statutes..."
Sure, 100% of their donations were meant for the museum, not to defend them in court but the OnePulse Foundation still used some of those donations this week to hire legal counsel anyway. And what exactly is that legal counsel defending them from? They want to "...carry out the board's decision...". But a grant is given with a promise of doing something with the government's money - and OnePulse didn't do that - so legally speaking, the state has the full right to demand that money back. It's not a decision the board needs to make.
Projects like this are why grants are given over time in small amounts. For example: the government gives you $50K and lets you spend it. If you can prove you spent it wisely on what you promised you would spend it on, they'll give you another $50K, and another, and so on until you get your full grant. But if you can't prove you're spending their money wisely, you have to pay it back in full...immediately.
What about the other $26.8 Million they raised? Well, that is still up in the air as to where the money is and how exactly it will be used. Private donations don't have the same legal protection that the grant has. Private donations depend on how the terms were worded at the time of the donation. If it said, 'money raised will go towards helping us build a museum', then technically "towards" could mean anything and the foundation could come up with whatever excuse they want for the money being spent. If it was worded as 'money raised will be used for the museum', it would have to specifically be used for the museum construction and would therefore have to be given in full to whatever organization is taking over the project to construct the museum or be given back to the donors in full.
All we know right now is, the museum is a LONG way from being completed, even after more than 7 years. We also know the numbers: A highly credible organization to help museums get off the ground called the Museum Planner says "Starting a museum is very expensive, as a rule of thumb, the exhibition space is half of the overall space..."
So, for a 4,500-square-foot building like Pulse Nightclub, the museum would only be about 2,250 square feet with the other half being reserved for staff areas. This is why a moment ago we mentioned they didn't need to buy the N. Lucerne Circle E. property as most museums of this size use 50% of their building for their offices. It was simply by choice that OnePulse was buying another office building...and this can be viewed as a waste of donation dollars to some. But Museum Planner goes on to explain how construction costs might exceed $200 per square foot to build something from bare land - but Pulse is already a constructed building so there would be little to no construction costs here.
They also estimate (on the high end) that the exhibition portion of the museum typically costs somewhere around $150 per square foot for the experience each guest would have when they arrive. This includes the cases, displays, and signage you see throughout the exhibition space in a typical museum. Sure, this means the Smithsonian in Washinton, DC is very expensive to build but for a small 2,250 square foot space like Pulse, it should only cost $337,500 to build the museum on the extreme high end and OnePulse Foundation already got $394,321 from the state as a grant.
Museum Planner also says it sometimes takes 10 years for a museum to be fully established so you might think 7 years is not that much so far. But OnePulse promised to open 5 years ago, then 4 years ago, then 3, then 2, and they kept moving the goal line. And keep in mind, they currently have 27.2 million dollars to build the museum when the leading organization helping museums get off the ground says it would only cost $337K.
So, I'm sure their lawyers will have to answer for where the other $26,862,500 went. For the record, we're not implying anyone stole money as there is no evidence of that yet. But there are some good questions to ask here which is likely why they have hired legal counsel.
This was the worst tragedy to hit the LGBTQ community in United States history. It was the worst mass shooting in America for just under a year before Las Vegas sadly beat the record. But these victims deserved a museum. That's why people and organizations from around the world donated $27 Million to help it become a monument to their legacy. Even Ron DeSantis helped make this a reality and for the first time in history, Ron DeSantis did something that we can all agree was good.
So, after promising they would open year after year, and raising 80 TIMES as much money as it would take to build such a museum, where did the money go? Why hasn't it been built yet and reportedly, why hasn't much construction been started? Most importantly, why make a promise that you'd open a museum "next year"...and say that year after year when you know the victims and their families deserve more than empty promises?
When this tragedy happened in 2016, the owner voluntarily took on the responsibility to build something to honor the victims in their bar. Sadly, they weren't responsible enough to get it done and kept making these empty promises. We now have to wait to see how much money is left and how much of your donations will be used for that effort. We have to wait for a new organization to either be founded or for an established group to volunteer for the effort.
We have to wait to see if the old Pulse building and the new office building 1.2 miles away will be donated to that new organization for the museum. But keep in mind, whatever organization takes over the effort to build the museum may have to buy the properties from OnePulse Foundation - yes, that could really happen if the old board of directors doesn't donate them first. We then have to wait another 3 to 10 years after that to see the museum open because the new organization would reportedly have to do all the construction to make it happen.
Sadly, none of that is a guarantee for these victims. We could be waiting for 10 more years before realizing no one wants to take over the effort. Whatever money that's left could just sit in an account waiting forever. Florida might not ever get their museum and these victims might not ever get anything more than just a building with some fancy fences outside.