The nonprofit group working to build a memorial at the site of a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people is having trouble raising money for the project, even as work has already begun to build it.
The Station Fire Memorial Foundation estimates it needs to raise $1.4 million. It has less than $200,000 in the bank, according the group's president, Gina Russo.
"We're not sure what we're doing wrong," Russo told The Associated Press this week.
The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick was started when the band Great White set off pyrotechnics that ignited flammable foam used as soundproofing inside the club. It was the fourth worst nightclub fire in U.S. history.
Hopes were high last year when the foundation secured rights to the land after years of trying. A temporary memorial composed of homemade crosses and weather-beaten mementoes had occupied the land for more than 10 years when the longtime owner transferred the land to the foundation in September 2012.
Plans call for individual memorials for each victim, a pavilion and a 30-foot-high entrance gate topped by an Aeolian harp.
The land transfer meant work on the memorial could finally move forward and fundraising could begin in earnest. The group said at the time it had around $100,000 in the bank and hoped to raise $5 million in five years. Today, it has around $185,000, Russo said.
The group has had numerous fundraisers in the last 14 months, but many have raised only a few thousand dollars each. They include a private event at an Alex and Ani jewelry store, which raised around $1,000, and a golf tournament that raised $1,200. A comedy show with national acts that was hosted by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" raised a disappointing $3,000, well short of its $50,000 to $100,000 goal.
The foundation is now pursuing some new avenues, including meeting with a professional fundraiser and trying to get some help from the state. After consulting with state Sen. Adam Satchell, who represents West Warwick, the foundation is preparing an application for a Department of Environmental Management grant for parks that could bring in tens of thousands of dollars if it qualifies.
Satchell said there are a lot of misconceptions among the public that could be hampering the group's attempts to raise money.
"It's tough, because they got a lot of money from the settlement, and they got money from corporate entities for the Station Family Foundation," he said, referring to the group established immediately after the fire to help the injured, children of those killed and others.
The $176 million total in settlement money was divided among the families of the 100 who died, the 200 who were injured and lawyers.
Paula McLaughlin lost her brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sandy Hoogasian, in the fire. She raised more than $20,000 for the foundation this year with a photography show of survivors and loved ones of those killed and from sales of a commemorative pin she designed.
She thinks there could be many reasons why they are having trouble, including that some people have the mistaken impression that all they have to do is "clear the land, put up a couple of trees and call it a day."
"People don't realize that a lot of money needs to be raised to make this come true," McLaughlin said. "It needs to be the big digits now."
Russo said she hopes several hundred thousand dollars of the $1.4 million cost to build and maintain the memorial could be defrayed if materials or work is donated. Developer and construction company Gilbane Inc. is among those that have donated services to the project.
But that still leaves hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise and few big donors stepping up to write checks. Some of the money must be set aside to maintain the land in perpetuity. As part of the transfer agreement, the land will revert back to the original owners if the foundation is unable to maintain it.
Initial work on the memorial, which has widespread support among the victims and their families, began in September. Workers put up a fence and cleared the land of the crosses and other items that dotted the site. Some plants have been removed and soil has been tested.
Russo said she doesn't want to scale back plans for the memorial, but she said they will have to consider that if all else fails.
"No one owes us anything, and I know that. But this fire affected the entire community," Russo said. "Over the last 10 years, I've heard so many people and companies say, 'When it's time, we're going to be there. We're going to build it.' Now's their opportunity."