Hyatt adds insult to injury with memorial decision

Dear Kansas City, Our hotel chain has relocated away from your fine city and, with the move, lost our sense of graciousness. Yours, Hyatt Hotels Corp.

That sums up the letter, in effect, anyway. The former general manager of the Hyatt Regency Crown Center wrote it to a leader of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation, a man whose mother and stepfather were among the 114 victims killed by the 1981 collapse of the skywalks at the hotel. Hyatt won’t be making a contribution to the memorial to victims and rescuers, the letter said.

The reasoning was pegged to fact that the hotel became a Sheraton this month.

What a sad reflection on corporate sense of right and wrong.

It’s easy to envision legal and public relations officials advising against further tying the Hyatt name to the 30-year-old disaster.

But this isn’t about guilt. It’s about respect for the deceased and those still suffering. A memorial is what many of them are working toward.

The financial settlements were paid years ago, more than $140 million going to about 1,600 claimants. Hyatt never owned the building. Hallmark Cards Inc. does, through its Crown Center Redevelopment Corp. But it’s certainly true that Hyatt has borne the stigma of having its name associated with a tremendous loss of life.

Hallmark’s corporate foundation contributed $25,000 to the memorial and has promised to double that amount.

You can’t live here very long and not meet someone with a connection to that July night when a design flaw sent the skywalks crashing down on the hundreds of people dancing to Big Band music. Their stories are deeply moving, testaments to people facing great adversity and, with the unyielding support of loved ones, moving forward with their lives.

All Kansas Citians share in the long-lasting effects, not all of them painful. Countless people have likely been saved by improvements to emergency response systems that were spurred by the tragedy.

And there is no way to measure how many construction flaws, mistakes in calculations have been corrected in the ensuing years by architects and engineers, their insights sharpened by the lessons of that night.

The morally correct reply whenever there is a loss is to pay your respects. “I’m sorry for your loss” are words that easily slip from most people, even when a stranger is grieving.

Instead of waiting for a corporation to make that gesture, it is fitting for the residents of the metro area to finish the fundraising. About $230,000 is still needed to begin construction in the spring and establish an endowment.

I’m writing my check tonight. Please join me.

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