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Nine years later, site of nightclub fire memorialized

Raymond Villanova, owner of the property that formerly housed the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, voluntarily signed the land's deed over to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation Sept. 28. The nightclub burned down in 2003 after pyrotechnics ignited the building, killing 100 people and injuring hundreds more.
For the past nine years, the West Warwick site housed a makeshift memorial to loved ones lost in the fire. The Station Fire Memorial Foundation, a fund started shortly after the incident, has long pursued the creation of a more permanent memorial dedicated to victims and survivors. According to the foundation's website, its goal is to "not only build, but maintain an eventual memorial that will remain for hundreds of years to come."
The local community and the victims' families have pressured the West Warwick government to acquire the land since the fire, and West Warwick Town Council President Angelo Padula said he and the town council manager tried to act as mediators between the property owners and the victims' families and survivors. But "there was litigation that wasn't settled," he said.
West Warwick had no legal claim to the land, though the council was approached by a member of the community about a year ago with the possibility of taking the land by eminent domain, Padula said. But the members of the town council were not comfortable with forcibly seizing the land from the Villanovas, Padula said.
The case appeared temporarily stalled, but in mid-September, Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 P'17 and House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, announced the possibility of the state taking action via eminent domain. Only 11 days after the announcement, Villanova donated the land to the families of the victims.
The Station Fire Memorial Foundation plans to raise approximately $5 million to build the memorial, which will be spent on construction and maintaining the property. Russo said the foundation has raised $100,000 thus far.
Gina Russo, president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation and a survivor of the fire, said persistence was key to finally reaching the ultimate goal. "I've been the president for two years, and when the board first met, we said it would be us," she said. "We're gonna fight for it." Russo sustained burns on nearly 40 percent of her body and lost her fiance in the fire.
 The Villanovas' donation came as a relief for Russo, other survivors and families of victims. "We think they were waiting for the right people to come to build a memorial properly," Russo said. "We're extremely excited."


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