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Plans for KC hotel disaster memorial struggling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Plans to have a memorial in place for the victims and rescuers of the 1981 skywalks collapse at a former Hyatt Regency hotel in Kansas City to mark the 31st anniversary of the disaster on Tuesday did not materialize because fundraising efforts have fallen short.

Frank Freeman, one of the founding members of a foundation raising funds for the memorial, has resigned because he objected to plans to change the memorial’s design, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/MfyLff ).

The disaster on July 17, 1981, killed 141 people and injured more than 200 others when two skywalks suspended inside the lobby of the hotel collapsed during a dance party. Investigators found that the skywalks were improperly attached to vertical rods hanging from the ceiling.

For years, efforts to create a memorial didn’t gain momentum. But last year, during the 30th anniversary of the disaster, the Skywalk Memorial Foundation held a ceremonial groundbreaking on a site about a block for the hotel, with plans to have it finished by this year’s anniversary.

Brent Wright, a founding member of the foundation and its new board president, said it has received more than 220 donations of money and in-kind services from individuals, companies and organizations.

“We’ve made good progress, but we’ve had challenges,” Wright said, referring to the economy. “We still need a few substantial donations to get the project done.”

Promoters said last year they needed $800,000 to build the memorial and establish an endowment. In December, the effort was $200,000 short. The Star said Wright could not say exactly how much money was still needed. A call to the foundation Tuesday from The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

Wright said the foundation is considering ways to cuts costs without substantially changing the plans.

“There can be some things that could need to be changed slightly in scale, but the bulk of the project and the theme of the project, none of that has changed at all,” said Wright, a Kansas City lawyer whose mother and stepfather died in the collapse.

He said the memorial foundation wants to raise enough to assure the park department that it can complete the project and establish a maintenance endowment. He said he was still hopeful that could happen this year.

Talks about changing plans for the memorial prompted Freeman to resign. He was injured and his partner was killed in the collapses.

“I resigned because the board voted to actually cut back on the design and cost of the memorial because they do not feel we will be able to raise the needed funds to complete the memorial as approved just before the 30th anniversary last year,” Freeman said in an email to the Star.

The hotel was owned by Crown Center Redevelopment Corp. and managed by Hyatt. Last year it became part of the Sheraton franchise.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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