Charleston to Buy Sofa Store Site


Posted: 04-22-2008
Updated: 04-25-2008 03:42:58 PM


DAVID SLADE
The Post and Courier

The owner of the former Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway, where nine Charleston firefighters were killed battling a blaze in June, has agreed to sell the land to the city for $1.85 million.

"It's sacred land now," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said. "Working with the families and the community, we will come up with the best way to design an appropriate memorial."

The site has been cleared of the charred rubble of the Sofa Super Store and warehouse, where the nation suffered its largest single loss of firefighter lives since 9/11 after a loading dock fire spread quickly through a showroom full of highly combustible sofas.

"We just want the property to be used either as a memorial to the firefighters, or a fire station - some use that would be for the public good," said Sofa Super Store owner Herb Goldstein. "I'm sure City Council and the mayor will come up with the best use."

The fire led to several still-unfinished investigations and a review of Charleston Fire Department practices that resulted in sweeping changes and millions of dollars in new equipment purchases.

Killed in the fire were Louis Mulkey, Brandon Thompson, William "Billy" Hutchinson III, Mark Kelsey, James "Earl" Allen Drayton, Michael French, Melvin Champaign, Mike Benke and Brad Baity.

It will be up to City Council to decide Tuesday whether to approve a proposed bond issue to buy the land where the sofa store stood.

Riley said he hopes the county, state, and federal governments will agree to split the cost four ways with the city.

"Last year, I spoke with representatives of Charleston County government, our state government and federal government and they all expressed a commitment to assist in the cost of purchasing the property," Riley said in a letter to City Council.

"I am certain that they will all want to be a part of this very important public protection of this hallowed ground."

In the letter to council, Riley said that buying the site of the fire will give the families of the firefighters some peace, "knowing that this land made sacred by their loved one's courageous devotion to duty will become an appropriate place of remembrance and honor to them."

The city had announced its intention to buy the land the month after the fire but reached an agreement with Goldstein just this week.

The $1.85 million price was the city's offer, based upon an appraisal commissioned by the city last year.

Ann Mulkey, whose son Louis died in the fire, said she was pleased to hear that the city would be buying the property.

She said that, to her, the site doesn't seem suitable for a park or a working fire station, but she had some ideas about a possible memorial.

"We would like to see a building that looks like a fire station, and have a museum in part of it with the things they collected from the site," Mulkey said.

She suggested there could also be a few rooms where visiting firefighters could stay.

"I know we still get quite a few from New York City who visit," Mulkey said.

Riley said the process of designing an appropriate memorial is sure to be complicated, with many ideas proposed.

The mayor said he will assemmemorial.ble a committee and will seek both public input and donations toward the cost of the memorial.
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Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com