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  • Writer's picturePulse Families and Survivors for Justice

Pulse Nightclub: Operating as a Nightclub in Violation of its Conditional Use Permit

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

During the trial of the wife of the Pulse shooter, it was revealed that the FBI reviewed the shooter’s cell phone data collected as he planned to carry out mass murder at Walt Disney Springs.


Disney Springs had a visible security presence. So, according to evidence, he decided not to kill there. By 12:22 AM the shooter used Google to search for “downtown Orlando nightclubs.” This is noted in a motion filed by the defense. Excerpts of the pertinent parts of this motion are shown below:


Excerpt from Motion (United States v. Noor Salman). Case 6:17-cr-00018-PGB-KRS Document 287 Filed 03/05/2018.

Excerpt from Motion (United States v. Noor Salman). Case 6:17-cr-00018-PGB-KRS Document 287 Filed 03/05/2018.

Pulse came up in the shooter's search results, along with another bar on South Orange Avenue called Eve Orlando. That’s when the shooter made his way to 1912 S. Orange Avenue, as Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma herself explains in the video below taken from the Roach Show.


The Pulse nightclub was never a planned target, nor did the shooter ever search for “gay bars,” “martini bars,” or “restaurants.” Not knowing where to go, the shooter searched on Google specifically for “downtown Orlando nightclubs.”

This is what brought the shooter to Pulse, where there was no security to stop him from entering the nightclub with an automatic rifle.

The problem is this: public records show that Pulse owners did not have the City’s permission to operate as a nightclub. On numerous occasions over the span of years, the City of Orlando told Rosario Poma that Pulse was not operating in compliance with its approved use.


This means that if Rosario and Barbara Poma followed the City’s laws, Pulse would never have been a nightclub and would have never appeared in the results of the shooter’s Google search on June 12, 2016.

And this is only one of the MANY issues that contributed to the mass shooting and caused the deaths of 49 victims and the injury of 53 survivors who were shot when gunfire rang out in the nightclub. Other issues: code violations, unpermitted renovations, occupancy issues, and lack of security—all of which are documented in public records.

Because of the lack of security presence at the door, the shooter was able to walk into the nightclub twice. The first time to do recognizance. After 17 minutes, he left and retrieved his rifle from the car, and went back in — no one could see him carrying the long rifle as he walked across the front of the nightclub because of an unpermitted fence that the Pomas constructed for their unpermitted nightclub. Again, security was not present at the door, which was shown by surveillance footage also released at the trial of Salman (shown below).


TRIGGER WARNING [GRAPHIC VIDEO]


What Public Records Reveal


The Municipal Planning Board approved Pulse’s conditional use permit (CUP2003–00012) on July 15, 2003, and provided owners with strict and defined restrictions for operating Pulse as a restaurant and martini bar. Below, you can read the Municipal Planning Board’s agenda, which defines these restrictions and even includes a food menu for a restaurant that never existed.

Pulse Municipal Planning Board
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Download PDF • 1.20MB

Pertinent excerpts from this document are provided below and show that the Pulse Nightclub was only approved as a restaurant and martini bar. The City of Orlando even imposed restrictions to prevent it from becoming a nightclub or entertainment venue, including prohibiting cover charges and entry fees (except for special events) and outdoor music.


However, Pulse shooting victims paid a $5-$10 cover charge on the night of the shooting and the nightclub had a DJ booth on the outdoor patio.


Excerpt from the Municipal Planning Board's Agenda, which states Pulse could not charge cover charges and entry fees and was only approved to operate as a restaurant with a martini bar.

Pulse did not have a kitchen, menu, or restaurant seating, which it was supposed to have. This document also specifies collecting cover charges was prohibited to prevent Pulse from becoming an entertainment establishment.

Furthermore, a document released by the City of Orlando dated May 6, 2004 states, “Staff review indicates that the permitted use, as approved by CUP2003–00012, was an eating and drinking establishment. The actual use as shown on building plans is for a nightclub. Nightclubs are considered Indoor Recreation, which requires a separate conditional use permit.” These are the City's own documents.


CUP2003–0012 is the only conditional use permit on record with the City of Orlando related to the Pulse Nightclub, which we learned through our public records requests (see next section). A separate permit was never issued and there are no records that indicate the Poma’s ever applied for a separate permit.

Additionally, and in accordance with Pulse's approved use, a handwritten note on a piece of pink paper dated May 10, 2004 states, “dance floor and stage removed” and “replace with bar setting and table setting.” This never happened. The Pulse owners never removed the dance floor and over the years actually expanded it without permits.


A hand-written note released by the City of Orlando showing that the dance floor and stage at Pulse Nightclub were slated for removal and to be replaced with bar setting and tables (for approved use as a restaurant and martini bar).

Two days later, Planning Director Dean Grandin wrote a letter to Rosario Poma that stated, “Please be aware that the use of the property must be consistent with, and meet the conditions of, the existing conditional use approval of the Municipal Planning Board.” The letter (seen below) also noted how a nightclub could have an “increased impact of the use, especially in proximity to residential neighborhoods.”


Grandin Letter
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Download PDF • 240KB

Rosario Poma responded to this letter on May 13, 2004, claiming that “the floor plan shall be revised to remove the dance floor and indicate an acceptable seating and table layout in the area previously shown as the dance floor.”


In this letter, Rosario Poma states that the dance floor will be removed and the floor plan will be revised to include proper food preparation areas.

Pulse owners never removed the dance floor and 20 people were murdered on the dance floor on June 12, 2016, as stated in a presentation given by former Orlando Police Chief John Mina in the aftermath of the mass shooting.



In 2010, after lying to the City and operating the business in violation for 6 years, Rosario and Barbara Poma heard from the City of Orlando again about violating their Conditional Use Permit — this time also noting illegal renovations and modifications made to the building without permits.

A handwritten note dated July 9, 2010 states, “there is currently no kitchen or food service” and “per Tom B. there are no table/chairs as would be “typical” in a restaurant.”


Meanwhile, Pulse was advertising its dance floor, renovations (done illegally), and modified interior (also illegal). Pulse Nightclub's website on July 25, 2010, stated, “Make your way into the newly renovated Lounge... you’ll find a place on the dance floor.”



On July 28, 2010, the Director of the Mayor’s Business Assistance Team, Lillian Scott, wrote to Rosario Poma, “After a review of past approvals and issued permits, there are a few items that we would like to share with you. Our discussion would include the previously approved Conditional Use Permit [sic] and a conversation regarding certain exterior improvements that have occurred on the property.”


This email followed the City’s own documentation of violations at Pulse, which was summarized in the memo (below). This memo states, “The floor plan approved as part of the Conditional Use Permit (see attached) is not consistent with the most recent floor plan submitted with a fire permit — FIR2009–01036 (attached). The most recent floor plan submitted shows a dance floor, two sound/speaker areas, two bars, two lounge areas, and an office.”


1912 S. Orange
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Download PDF • 235KB

However, just like the first 6 years of Pulse’s operation, the City of Orlando never issued a citation, never shut down the business, and never forced the owners to bring the nightclub into compliance. After operating unchecked and out of compliance for another 6 years, the shooter Googled “downtown Orlando nightclubs” and found Pulse operating as such (in violation of its Conditional Use Permit).


At the conclusion of this memo, the City of Orlando even gave Pulse Nightclub owner two options to solve this compliance issue: (1) "comply with the approved Conditional Use Permit and convert the space to conform to the approved CUP floor plan," which we know from the layout of the club at the time of the shooting that this was not done; and (2) amend the existing CUP and request for CUP approval to allow a nightclub at 1912 S. Orange Avenue.


Neither was done.


The City of Orlando provided Pulse owners with two options for changes they needed to make to be in compliance with their approved conditional use permit.



The City's Misdirection, Manipulation of the Media, and Refusal to Answer Questions Directly


Numerous records from numerous City leaders show that the owners of the Pulse Nightclub continued to operate their business in violation of its approved use—without any enforcement of the City's laws, building and development codes, or life safety codes—until the shooting permanently shut the business down.


We asked the City of Orlando multiple times and in multiple ways to confirm this, but over and over again the City has refused to answer questions directly. City Attorney Mayanne Downs responded to one request on May 24, 2022, by stating, "We are in full compliance with the law on your requests for public records; we are not under any obligation, nor would it make sense, for us to provide a response to your requests for us to "confirm" any of your statements, for publication or any other purpose."


It was not always this way. In the Fall of 2019, when we first began digging through the records after being tipped off by a City official, the Permitting Division was extremely helpful and researched the records to answer our questions. See one of our emails below:


1912 S Orange Ave Permits BLD6879301 BLD201000569
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Download PDF • 98KB

However, someone in the City shut that down and the Permitting Division stopped answering any questions regarding 1912 S. Orange Avenue. When we called, they quickly tried to get us off the phone and said that they could not answer questions regarding the Pulse Nightclub. When we asked them how we can get answers to our questions, they said that we must go through the City's PIO, the Office of the Mayor, or the Records Department where requests are handled (in part) by City Attorney Mayanne Downs. Of course, this was just a way to send us on a wild good chase.


Following the odd direction given to us over the phone by the Permitting Division, we submitted questions to the Records Department. We knew the Records Department only provided records. In response to our request (below), the Record Department stated, "While we acknowledge receipt of your questions, please be advised that the Florida public records law requires the production of records but does not require that we answer questions. Therefore, the City of Orlando considers this matter to be closed."


So, over the years, we tried every path to get questions answered: We submitted questions to the City Council (including our 49 Question campaign), which went unanswered; we submitted questions to the City's Public Information Officers, which went unanswered; we submitted questions directly to the City Attorney Mayanne Downs, which went unanswered; we submitted questions to the entire City, which went unanswered and triggered Ms. Downs to respond saying, "Please do not engage with Dr. Blair. I'll continue to review his emails, in case he makes an appropriate records request to which we owe a response. Feel free to delete what he sends." (see below). This happened after we asked Ms. Downs to stop using her private email for government business.


RE Pulse Nightclub Code Violations and Unpermitted Renovations Fourth FollowUp
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Download PDF • 156KB

Since the City would not confirm the CUP issue, we followed the City's own 2010 memo and asked for any records that showed Pulse owners amended the CUP they had to operate as a restaurant and martini bar (Option I) or applied for a new conditional use permit (Option II). These options are shown above in the excerpt with the heading, "Next Steps."


What came back was: "No Responsive Records." In other words, Pulse owners never amended their CUP to operate as a nightclub/dancehall or applied for a new CUP to operate as a nightclub/dancehall. This request and response are shown below:


The City of Orlando refuses to directly answer questions and directs all questions to the Office of the Mayor, City PIO, and the Records Department where they go unanswered. The only way to get answers is to ask for records through the Records Department.

Also in 2021, we cast a broader net to see if Pulse owners ever amended their CUP for any compliance reason. The only record of Pulse amending its use was AFTER the shooting in 2017 when the owners turned the property into an interim memorial.


With Public Records Request 21-6203, we cast a broad net to see if Pulse owners ever took the steps laid out by the City to operate the business legally as a nightclub. Results showed they did not.

You can view these documents below:


DET2017-10051 Pulse Memorial TUP CAI (1)
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Download PDF • 160KB

DET2017-10051 Pulse Memorial TUP Ext (1)
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Download PDF • 178KB

So in June 2021, we got our answer from the Records Department by getting no responsive records when we asked for proof that Pulse Nightclub's CUP was amended or that the owners applied for a new CUP. Around this time, we spoke publicly about this particular issue and even brought it up with the Orlando Sentinel for their annual reporting at the 5-year mark. In this report, the City was said to have refuted the fact that "Pulse was never properly licensed to be a nightclub." This is shown below:



Wondering what the City said to Orlando Sentinel reporters, we asked the City's Records Department for the statement that was provided. These requests and the City's responses are below:



Through these Records Requests, we found that the City told the Orlando Sentinel, "The City does not have a permit category for nightclubs." The complete statement read:


"For background, the City does not have a designation in our code for nightclubs. They are classified as "eating and drinking" establishments.


Specific to this property, the owner applied for a Conditional Use Permit, which was approved to allow for an eating and drinking establishment with more than 51% of its revenue from the sales of alcoholic beverages within 1,000 feet of a church.


The complaint logged with Code Enforcement in June 2010 alleged the establishment was in violation of the CUP, but there was no evidence found to support that allegation. The addition of a dance floor would not have been a violation of the conditions of the CUP.


We have no records of any other complaints, and no records of any cited violations of the CUP."


This statement, of course, is blatantly contradicted by the City's own records from 2010 that clearly state Pulse was not approved to operate as a nightclub, it was operating as such in violation of its CUP, and that the dance floor was a violation of its approved use. This violation was the basis for the City (via Dean Grandin) asking Rosario Poma to remove the dance floor in 2003, which also contradicts the City's 2021 statement to the Orlando Sentinel.


Furthermore, the statement provided by the City is also contradicted by its own zoning (Land Development) codes. A collection of these records is shown below with the relevant excerpts highlighted.





To verify this in 2021, we reached out to the City of Orlando's Zoning Department and asked if someone could just turn a restaurant into a nightclub. We were surprised to see that the person in the City's Permitting Division who helped us get answers about Pulse's permits back in 2019 was now working in the City Planning Division. She responded, "That's correct, you can't just convert a restaurant into a club, those are two different uses, a nightclub is not the same as a restaurant." This statement directly contradicted what the City said about Pulse and its claim that nightclubs are classified as "eating and drinking" establishments.



It is important to note that Inspector Bernard, who is the same inspector that erroneously claimed Pulse had permits for the fenced-in outdoor patio, also erroneously documented that Pulse "had full permission to operate as a nightclub in 2003" in response to the June 2010 complaint that Pulse was operating as a nightclub in violation of its Conditional Use Permit.


Correspondence between Rosario Poma and Dean Grandin, as well as the CUP itself, shows that Bernard's statement was false. Records also show that Heather Middleton placed a hold on one of Pulse's permits for a liquor license (ABL2004-00057) on May 6, 2004, because of the "permitted use issue."


If the City claims it did not find "any evidence to support this allegation" in June 2010, it was because of its own negligence and incompetence—as the city's leaders had this violation well documented in June 2010 and addressed this issue directly with Rosario Poma.


It is clear from the records above, that the City had full knowledge that Pulse Nightclub operated as a nightclub in violation of its approved conditional-use permits and it's Public Information Officer continues to gaslight the media.


To Add Insult to Injury and Murder

Pulse’s Conditional Use Permit also states, “To ensure that the establishment remains and does not become a full or part-time entertainment establishment, cover charges and entry fees may only be collected on an occasional basis for special events such as live entertainment.” Pulse consistently charged nightly covers and victims of the shooting paid $5 to get into the unpermitted nightclub on June 12, 2016, and have their lives violently stolen.

To date, the City of Orlando nor any other regulatory or law enforcement body, has ever launched a criminal investigation into the Pulse owner’s code violations and unpermitted renovations — despite records that show they obstructed the escape and rescue of shooting victims. One of the many violations, the 6-foot fence that surrounded part of the nightclub, was written about in the Orlando Sentinel.

Instead, a group of City attorneys prepared documentation for potential litigation against the City for not bringing the nightclub into compliance, including a timeline of the violations at Pulse, which the City tried to hide from the public using an irrelevant statute S. 119.071(1)(d)1., F.S. to fully redact this document.


After the City tried to keep this list of code violations from the public, we demanded that we be given this document without redaction.


You can download this document without redactions below.


Permitting timeline 2
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Download PDF • 198KB

The Mayor of the City of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, has been aware of the violations at Pulse and the City’s failure to bring the nightclub into compliance. Regardless, he still sits on the Chairman’s Ambassadors Council of Barbara Poma’s nonprofit, the OnePULSE Foundation, which seeks to turn the nightclub and surrounding area into Orlando’s newest tourist attraction.

The OnePULSE Foundation’s Board Chairman, Earl Crittenden, is an eminent domain lawyer who works in the Office of the Mayor, as well as for Gray Robinson — the same law firm that City Attorney Mayanne Downs was the President of when the shooting happened and who prepared the City’s legal documents in preparation for litigation against the City in regards to Pulse’s unpermitted renovations and code violations.

Spared from mass murder in Walt Disney Springs, the former President of Walt Disney World Resort, George A. Kalogridis, also partnered with Barbara Poma and currently sits on the OnePULSE Foundation’s Executive Council.

Barbara Poma continues to deny that she is trying to turn the site into a tourist attraction, even after she pitched this project for area tourism to the Orange County Tourism Development Council for a $10M tourism tax grant (that she was awarded) and in 2021 she was given a seat on the Board of Visit Orlando.

She did this even as victims of the mass shooting are suing her and her husband for negligence. Ongoing litigation brought by victims hasn’t even stopped her from using her foundation to collect money using the names, photos, and stories of their murdered loved ones. Rosario and Barbara Poma also refused to sell the Pulse property above market value to the City of Orlando for a public memorial park, making clear their effort to capitalize off the tragedy. Barbara Poma took in $150,000 a year in her role as CEO of the nonprofit she started after 49 people were murdered inside her building.

Pulse’s one and only, unamended conditional use permit (CUP2003–00012) can still be seen on the City’s permit search portal. Other records related to the CUP, unpermitted renovations, and code violations can be found on the City’s Pulse Tragedy Public Records website.


***If you have any additional information about these issues and Pulse's CUP, please email us at nopulsemuseum@gmail.com.

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