Hyatt supports memorial for walkway collapse

Friday, July 18, 2008 | 7:19 p.m. CDT; updated 1:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — A group seeking to build a memorial nearly 30 years after two walkways collapsed at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center is receiving support from the hotel.

The announcement came Thursday on the 27th anniversary of the collapse. Also Thursday, the Skywalk Memorial Foundation unveiled a three-phase plan for the memorial in nearby Washington Square Park.

Two skywalks suspended from the ceiling of the hotel lobby collapsed to the floor during a tea dance on July 17, 1981, killing 114 people and injuring more than 200.

“Hyatt Regency Crown Center wishes to express support of the efforts of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation to develop a permanent memorial in memory of the victims of the 1981 Crown Center skywalk collapse,” the hotel’s general manager, Rusty Macy, said in a written statement.

At a news conference Thursday, the foundation’s president, Frank Freeman, and some of the group’s members met with former Mayor Richard L. Berkley to announce the hotel’s support of the memorial and reveal a three-phase plan for the tribute.

“This is a very solemn day but also a day where we can all pull together because I think the time is right,” said Berkley, who was mayor at the time of the disaster.

Freeman, who was injured in and lost his partner to the disaster, said there long had been a perception that the hotel did not want a memorial. He said the foundation welcomes news of the hotel’s support.

The Skywalk Memorial Foundation began the most recent push for a public memorial after the 25th anniversary. Freeman said the foundation received tremendous support from a Web site designed to gather public input.

The plan unveiled Thursday would create a garden, fountain and sculpture in three separate phases in Washington Square Park, said foundation board member Brent Wright, whose mother and stepfather died in the collapse.

The design and site in the park have not been approved by the Parks and Recreation Board. The foundation has no timetable for the memorial.

Money for the tribute would come from private donations, and fundraising for the project would kick off after the park board approves the plan. The foundation estimates it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The foundation has already secured a $75,000 commitment from the city and a $25,000 donation from the Hallmark Corporate Foundation.

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