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Owner of burned RI club donates land for memorial

SHARE Owner of burned RI club donates land for memorial

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — The owner of the site of a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people is donating the land for a permanent memorial, bringing an end to a years-long effort to secure the site of The Station fire by families of those killed and survivors of the blaze.

Dan McKiernan, a lawyer for property owner Ray Villanova, filed papers at West Warwick Town Hall that transferred ownership of the plot of land to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation on Friday. The Associated Press reviewed the documents Friday morning. The move comes five months before the 10th anniversary of the blaze, which started when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White set fire to flammable foam that lined the walls of the club.

The one condition of the transfer is that a suitable memorial be maintained at the site in perpetuity, according to the deed.

McKiernan would not comment about the donation ahead of a 10 a.m. news conference scheduled by the foundation at the site of the fire.

A makeshift memorial consisting of homemade crosses, flowers, photos and other personal items cropped up on the site shortly after the fire and has been maintained there by family members of the dead ever since. The site was left open to the public, and a memorial service is held there annually on the anniversary, Feb 20.

While the foundation has a design for a permanent memorial and pledges from construction workers to build it, nothing could move forward until it secured rights to the land.

In 2006, three people were criminally convicted of 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter: club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele. The hundreds of survivors and relatives of those killed struck a $176 million deal in 2009 with several companies to settle lawsuits brought over the fire. With the civil and criminal prosecutions over, attention turned to building the memorial.

Villanova has said he always intended the land be used as a memorial, an intention repeated by McKiernan as recently as last week. But delays have frustrated some family members of those killed. Last week, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox said they were looking into the legalities of seizing the land by eminent domain.

Follow Michelle R. Smith at www.twitter.com/MRSmithAP