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Charleston airport plans memorial to honor Emanuel AME victims, families

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Two 5-foot-high stained glass window panes depicting a downtown Charleston church and nine white doves will be the centerpiece of a planned Emanuel Nine memorial at Charleston International Airport.

The planned memorial at Charleston International Airport will be designed to honor the nine victims of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church and their families. (Rendering/Mead & Hunt)

The Charleston County Aviation Authority board plans to raise at least $175,000 from private donations to create the Mother Emanuel AME memorial as part of its ongoing $200 million redevelopment project.

The memorial is designed to honor the nine victims, the survivors and the families affected by the June 17 shootings inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston.

The 400-square-foot memorial will be in the airport’s main hallway. It will be the first area seen by arriving passengers after they leave the secure side of the terminal.

The memorial planners want the space to help millions of travelers and visitors reflect on the shooting, as well as Charleston’s response in the wake of it.

The conceptual plans and renderings for the space were presented during the authority’s board meeting Thursday. A subcommittee, co-chaired by board members Helen Hill and Margaret Seidler, began planning the memorial late last year. No construction date has been set.

Seidler said the committee talked with survivors to get ideas for a space “that would honor the lives that were lost, honor those who survived, as well as recognize the response that Charleston showed the community and the world.”

Memorial designs

A glass partition, where the stained glass will hang, will separate the memorial from a small seating area. Charlestowne Stained Glass of North Charleston will design the stained glass. The company also worked on the church’s elevator project last year.

Names of the survivors, and possibly the victims, will be etched into the glass if the families grant permission, Seidler said.

A round table will sit in the middle of the space, similar to those used for Bible study within the church. The table will hold a Bible encased in glass, which will be opened to the Book of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 13-20 — the same passage the Bible Study group read on the night of the shootings.

The memorial will feature photographs taken by Dan Xeller of Charleston. Xeller documented the community’s response in the wake of the shootings. Background music will also play in the memorial space.

Charleston County Aviation Authority CEO Paul Campbell, also a state senator, said the area will be a place for meditation or reflection and “as close to a chapel as we will have here. It will be a place for people to go when something heavy is on their mind.”

Fundraising, construction

The authority has to check with the Federal Aviation Administration to see whether it is legal for the airport to take donations for a specific cause and manage the fund itself, or if a nonprofit must be established instead. Airport attorney Arnold Goodstein said he plans to have an answer for the board at its April meeting.

Board Chairman Billy Swails said he wants to ensure the maintenance costs for the memorial eventually come under the airport’s responsibility regardless of whether a nonprofit is established for fundraising efforts.

He said the memorial will be there for decades after the current board leaves their posts and he wants to ensure money is not left in the bank if the nonprofit were to become defunct. Swails will lead the fundraising efforts. Details on how to donate have not been released yet.

Mead and Hunt, the program manager on the airport’s redevelopment project, partnered on the planning and design of the memorial. The firm plans to donate its design, architectural and program management services to the project, according to a news release.

Rich Lundeen, architect for Mead and Hunt, said the planners are hoping to “unbundle” this project, enabling small businesses or minority-owned companies to participate in the buildout of the space rather than one large contractor or subcontractor.

Lundeen said he expects to have more specific plans and suppliers determined in the coming months and to begin construction in the fall. A new mobile app is also being considered to provide a better understanding of the shootings, the community’s response and Charleston history.

Hill, also the CEO of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she hopes people who interact with the memorial will have two responses.

“First, they are going to have to ask that very hard question: ‘Lord could I have forgiven someone?’ And then they are going to be inspired to say: ‘I know I can live my life differently and I can do something special to serve.’ ”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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