It’s been 43 years since a fire killed 165 people and injured more than 200 at the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
Now a developer plans to turn the land into a $65 million mixed-use development, called Memorial Point, which will include an assisted living facility, apartments, single-family homes and a permanent memorial to honor the victims of the 1977 supper club fire.
But some of the victims’ family members had no say in those plans, attorney Steven Megerle said. And a meeting they had planned to present their case to the developers? It was canceled hours before it started, he said. The cancellation follows a disagreement over who should attend, emails say.
“We are still not heard”
Megerle says the city of Southgate rushed into a development deal with Edgewood-based construction company Ashley Builders and Cincinnati-based Vision Realty Group. And a zoning change that he says was rushed is now pending, in the hands of Southgate City Council.
A representative for Ashley Builders said the company follows zoning laws and procedures with every opportunity for public participation, and said the company had several interactions with Megerle’s group.
The developers have drawn up a plan to create a memorial with public access at the foot of the hill which leads to a private park.
But some families of victims say they don’t want the memorial at the foot of the hill. They want him at the site of the fire, where they believe many of the remains of their loved ones still rest.
Robin Thornhill says she was 5 when her parents, aunts and uncles were caught up in the fire. Her mother and two uncles initially dated, although her mother died nine months later. Her father and three of her aunts died the night of the fire, along with an unborn cousin.
“Even though there are no large pieces, their ashes are up there. And that’s why we think it’s a cemetery,” Thornhill said.
Leslie Dischar Henry lost her mother, a cocktail waitress, the night of the fire. She says that only her mother’s torso was later recovered, and that it may not even have been her mother’s. The body was unidentifiable, she said. Henri was 18 at the time.
“I feel like my mother is still up there. And that’s like telling me you can’t go see her anymore. You can’t be here anymore,” Henry said.
In emails Megerle provided to The Enquirer, he outlined several demands to be discussed at a meeting Wednesday between family members of the victims, the developer and the town of Southgate.
But the meeting did not take place.
“The developer initially didn’t want the city to be at the meeting, for whatever reason,” Megerle said. “And then the developer wanted just one of the (family members) to attend the meeting on behalf of all the victims and all the families.”
Megerle pushed back. In an email to the promoter’s attorney, Sarah Houseman, Megerle wrote that he would bring no more than four clients to the meeting.
Houseman instead offered to schedule a meeting between Ashley Builders and family members without a lawyer, according to an email from him. Megerle says family members declined the offer.
Developer: “We’re listening”
“What if they start moving dirt and they start finding stuff?” Megerle said.
This question was raised in letters exchanged between legal advisers. Houseman wrote that there is no evidence that human remains exist at the site at this point, and numerous records confirm that all deceased were accounted for.
“However, the proponent agrees that if any human remains are discovered at the site during site development work, such work will cease in the area where they were discovered until they can be properly interred,” wrote Houseman.
In a statement provided to The Enquirer in response to a request for comment, Ashley Builders said she was working with a group of survivors and family members of victims, as well as city officials in Southgate, Australia. within a memorial planning committee.
In addition to the planned memorial along US 27, the developer says it will install a memorial marker or sign featuring a map of the Beverly Hills Supper Club at a community park.
Houseman’s letter says Megerle’s clients “refused to work with the established memorial group.”
Ashley Builders said it changed its plans following public meetings to address community concerns, according to their statement.
The next scheduled town meeting on the redevelopment is Wednesday.
In May, Southgate City Council entered into a joint agreement with Ashley Builders and Vision Realty Group to develop the site.
In July, the Campbell County Zoning Commission unanimously approved the zoning change the developers needed to move the project forward.
The city council has the final say on whether the change is appropriate. Megerle said it was up to those six people “to do the right thing.”
City Council will meet on Wednesday, August 19 at the Southgate Community Center at 301 W. Walnut St.
What’s left:Fire and 40 years