Words alone cannot convey why the announcement of a new Hyatt hotel for Kansas City both thrilled and frustrated Sol Koenigsberg.
Koenigsberg is 90. He is among the survivors of the 1981 skywalk collapse at another Hyatt that once graced downtown. It’s a Sheraton now. Koenigsberg is among a core group working for nearly a decade to raise funds for a memorial to that night. More than 200 people were injured and 114 died.
Only about $60,000 more is needed to push the project forward and break ground. A fitting date to meet that goal would be July, the 34th anniversary.
Koenigsberg is in full support of the new Hyatt hotel, seeing it as a vital piece of downtown’s growing vibrancy.
And yet no skywalk memorial exists. A sculpture design has been chosen, honoring both the lives lost and the first responders. A location has been secured within Hospital Hill’s park area. More than $400,000, much of it in-kind donations, has been raised.
Many factors have affected the painfully slow process of raising the money despite the support of people such as Dick Berkley, who was mayor at the time, along with his successors. For many, the tragedy was just too awful.
“We’ve been to banks, hospitals, corporations,” Koenigsberg said of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation’s members. “People say, ‘Who wants to remember that? It was such a horrible thing.’”
The recession took a toll. Hallmark, through Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., owned the property. So loyalty to the revered Kansas City firm, and its generous philanthropy throughout the city, may have been a consideration for others. Hallmark’s corporate foundation, however, has been among the larger donors, along with area law firms and the city.
The collapse of the skywalk represents a nearly incomprehensible loss of life, avoidable due to the human errors involved in a design change. And yet the tragedy also represents good — through the valiant acts of responders and the medical community, lessons learned in engineering and trauma care.
Controversy will always exist around commemorating lives lost. But dignity can be found too. Consider the serenity of the Vietnam veterans wall in D.C., the National September 11 Memorial & Museum where the twin towers stood and the field of empty chairs and reflecting pools in place of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
As a community, Kansas City needs to step forward, raise the final funds and complete this memorial.