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Immortalizing Gratitude

Proposals to Improve Charleston 9 Memorial Debated

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July 26, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor

Proposed improvements to the Charleston 9 Memorial is forcing city leaders to strike a delicate balance between vibrancy and solemnity.

City parks director Jason Kronsberg recently met with members of the city fire department and family members of the nine firemen killed a decade ago in the infamous Sofa Super Store Fire, to present a conceptual plan to enhance the Savannah Highway municipal park erected to honor their sacrifices.

And their reactions sent him back to the drawing board. Literally.

Kronsberg, a trained landscape architect, and members of his staff refined their conceptual plan, which includes incorporating the planned new firehouse that will be built next door as one single parcel.

Conceptual plans for the new firehouse have been approved, and more rounds of reviews and vetting and proposals await what is expected to be a $5 million facility.

City staffers have reached out to nearby neighborhoods to get their feedback. Representatives from several neighborhood associations had banded together to block what will become the new firehouse from becoming a towed car lot.

While money for the improvements hasn’t been identified, this should be considered the first step in a long process the city is committed to further remembering the fallen nine. It will be a lengthy and considered process going forward, according to Kronsberg.

Kronsberg said last week that what has emerged from the second trip to the drawing board would be a plan to better utilize the back half of the street-to-street double lot. In that space, Kronsberg has envisioned the plot becoming more “park-like with walkways, picnic tables, and benches.”

And here is where the balance gets delicate. Should the memorial become a quiet place for contemplation, or should it be a more open, inviting space where the public would be more likely to come visit? In short, should the memorial be for the victims’ families or for the community as a whole.

Lauren Frierson, whose husband Capt. Louis Mulkey perished in the fire, admits the location “is not ideal for relaxing, as it is on a major thoroughfare.”

Frierson has remarried since the fire and has just come back from maternity leave to her job in the local Solicitor’s office where she tangles with drugs and violent crime.

“I am so thankful the city and the mayor called for the families of the fallen to be on board and included in the process,” said Frierson, a former city cop. “I think the work in progress is on the right track, especially with getting everybody involved,” including current firefighters who lived through it.

At the end of the day, Frierson said the final plan that emerges will have to be a “compromise,” because of the number of stakeholders involved.

When asked what she would like to see at the memorial if given a magic wand, Frierson grew quiet for a moment and then said: “Louis … standing there alive and grinning again.”

Short of that, she said that, “Nothing they build there, no matter how much it costs, or how beautiful it is, or how well it is maintained is going to bring them back.” And that creates another delicate balance, thematically, as Frierson said the park needs to evolve into a “positive place, and not essentially a reminder of a sad and tragic event.”

Frierson said that by including as many voices as the city has, a solid plan will be the result.

City Councilman Bill Moody has been fighting for years to improve the park. He has argued repeatedly that if something isn’t done the nine men who died will be forgotten “in another 10 years or maybe as long as a lifetime.”

Moody would like to expand the scope of the remembrance at the park, and include elements to honor all the 22 firefighters who have died protecting the city. And he would like to create a park that is more welcoming, maybe even including a play area at the back.

That way, families would be more likely to come and visit and have a seed of respect planted in the kids visiting, he said. Moody envisions a park where elementary school classes could take trips to, clamber around on a firetruck-themed jungle gym and begin to understand the sacrifice some have made for the many.

“To me, there’s nothing better or happier than a bunch of kids running around having a good time,” said Moody. “This isn’t disrespecting anyone, it’s honoring them.”

And, Moody wants to include more elements that will make the park a more vibrant space so it can become an integral part of West Ashley in the coming decades.

Meredith Demetre is a nearby neighborhood representative and one of the local activists who advocates for change in the area. She said everyone she’s talked to in the neighborhoods surrounding the memorial see the changes as having a “huge, positive impact.”

She especially liked the idea of further memorializing the men who protected the very neighborhoods they died protecting.

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