A public memorial honoring the nine Charleston firefighters killed in the Sofa Super Store blaze could be under way by the time the two-year anniversary of the tragedy rolls around in June, based on an ambitious schedule set by a city commission recommending plans for the site.
The 26-member city commission is made up of firefighters, families of the fallen men, city officials and community members. The group began meeting last year to mull proposals for the 2.5-acre site of the former furniture store on Savannah Highway. The city purchased the land for $1.85 million in the wake of the June 18, 2007, fire.
The commission is considering a plan that includes two buildings that could house training classrooms, offices, a lecture hall, an emergency dispatch center and a room to display mementos and artifacts associated with the blaze.
The proposed centerpiece of the plan is a memorial garden with an eternal flame, trickling water and monuments to the nine firefighters.
Jimmy Bailey, chairman of the commission, wants the group to forward its final recommendations to Mayor Joe Riley and City Council by mid-March. Depending on how quickly the city moves on the recommendations, and how much money is available, work on the first phase could start by the fire's anniversary, Bailey said.
"I would expect it to be done in phases, with the memorial being first. That would be the focal point, and everything would be built around it."
Commission member Heather Baity, widow of fallen firefighter Brad Baity, and others said they want the site to focus on educating firefighters about safety and the sacrifice of those who died there. The memorial should help "prevent it from happening again and be helpful to the guys that are still here," Baity said.
Commission members already have begun meeting with the city's design staff and Fire Chief Thomas Carr Jr. to ensure the plans fit with the city's vision for the area and the Fire Department's goals.
New ideas discussed Wednesday included tying in the site with the nearby Greenway walk and bike trail and building a transparent facade made of glass or some other material along the highway.
One commission member has said the memorial could cost as much as $10 million, but Bailey said that's only a guess.
Riley has said he plans to pursue public and private funds at all levels of government to help pay for the memorial.