Imperial Ave. Memorial one step closer to completion four years later

CLEVELAND - Florence Bray put her hand on the blueprint and immediately found her daughter and niece’s name. Then the tears quickly followed.

“That’s what brought the tears,” Bray said, "to see this after so long, I had to cry.”

The blueprint Bray had her hand on was the redesign for the Imperial Ave. Memorial unveiled Thursday at the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in the Mt. Pleasant section of Cleveland. Architects have been working on this for about two years now. 

It is a memorial that will honor the lives of the 11 Cleveland-area women murdered by Anthony Sowell at his Imperial Avenue home.

The gruesome discovery was made in October of 2009 and Sowell’s house has since been torn down.

“I still can’t just walk on that ground because all those girls were buried there and to me I’m walking on their grave,” said Bray.

But there isn’t even a tombstone at the Imperial Avenue location. It’s still just an empty lot - which is the reason Kevin Robinette said his group went to the city with an idea for a memorial. 

Robinette represents the American Institute of Architects and said, “The concern was the television stations would show up with a family member and say, ‘Look, isn’t it a shame that nothing’s been done to this lot and look how awful it is. It’s overgrown strewn with rocks and cans and bottles.' So our goal was try to create something to put back there that would be meaningful to the family members and community involved.”

The redesign presented Thursday was the first design the Imperial victim’s families have seen that could actually be the finished product. The design includes an infinity curve and utilizes the number 11 in the number of trees, sidewalk elements and lighting to reflect what happened there. There’s also a partial curved wall that will include the names of the 11 victims.

At their last meeting, three distinctly different designs were offered, causing frustration for the families.

“They asked for a space that was contemplative, they asked for a space that wasn’t designed to accommodate play or real activities: a place where the women could be remembered, what happened there could be remembered,” said Robinette.

Also a cause of frustration: the time it took to get this far and every planning meeting held, opening old wounds. “At almost the five-year mark, I’m just ready for something to be put there other than what’s there now,” said Donnita Carmichael, her a mother a victim. 

“Tonight represents a certain benchmark, but we need the help our entire team as well as the coalition as well as other members of the community to pull this off and get this done,” said Robinette. 

Robinette told NewsChannel5 Cleveland City Council has budged about $135,000 as seed money to get the project started. Other groups are said to have donated labor and materials, but a significant amount of the money needed to complete the memorial will have to come from donations. 

Around $300,000 is the estimated amount of what the developers will need to complete the memorial, according to Rev. Jimmy Gates working with the victims' families and the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

Robinette is hoping if all goes well, they will be able to break ground around Mother’s Day of 2014 and have the memorial completed and ready for dedication by Oct. 29, 2014, on what will be the fifth anniversary of the day Sowell’s victims were discovered.

“It is so beautiful,” said Bray over and over as she patted her eyes with a tissue, looking at the new blueprints.

“It’s a little overwhelming because for the last four years actually, even when this past fourth anniversary, it was disheartening to go back there and have to stand on bare land,” said Joann Moore who lost her younger sister, Janice Web. “This is going to bring some ease. It’ll help the families to completely have closure."

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