Some of the notes, flowers and artwork Tucsonans left at key sites after the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage may become a permanent memorial inside the old Pima County Courthouse.
The nonprofit January 8th Memorial Foundation is asking the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee for an unspecified amount of money for the project, which could be on the first floor of the historic, tile-roofed courthouse.
The group is still researching possible sites and funding sources, said Stephen Brigham, president of the foundation. The board got in touch with the advisory group, he said, to have a "seat at the table" as decisions are made about the future of the courthouse, which will be empty once county offices are relocated in the coming months.
At least one other group, the Tucson Museum of Art, seeks funding to build a Western art museum at the same location.
Brigham said the location was "very appealing" when county officials mentioned that the first floor of the site would become available.
"We are particularly excited by possibilities in and around the historic Pima County Courthouse," Brigham wrote in an email to the advisory committee. "We believe that this iconic structure and its adjacent outdoor plazas symbolize the historic heart of our community and could serve as an ideal location for a permanent memorial dedicated to January 8."
The group is leaning toward building the memorial in downtown Tucson - which members see as the heart and soul of the community - rather than at or near the site of the shootings, outside a grocery store at the southeast corner of North Oracle and West Ina roads.
Community response to the shootings, in which six people died and 13 were injured, is an important aspect of the memorial, said C.J. Karamargin, who was not there the day of the shooting with his then-boss, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
The attack was an attempted assassination of Giffords, who was shot through the left side of her brain but survived.
"People showed up that Saturday morning to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That has shaped some of our thinking, and the memorial has to reflect that thinking," Karamargin said.
The initial idea for the site, Brigham said, includes an outdoor space next to the courthouse, creating a memorial gateway that "unites our local democratic institutions and provides opportunities for civic discourse."
Other plans include using the courthouse itself.
"We also envision interior exhibit space to tell the story of how a community was affected and how Tucson's citizens responded through interactive displays and some of the memorabilia from the three vigil sites," he said.
The nonprofit has stored hundreds of boxes in an air-conditioned warehouse. Inside are prayer candles, handwritten cards and stuffed animals that were left in massive, makeshift memorials at the shooting site as well as outside Giffords' office and on the lawn of University of Arizona Medical Center, where most of the wounded were treated.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said he is open to using the courthouse as a memorial to those killed and hurt on Jan. 8 but notes he has not seen a formal proposal.
For now, foundation board members said, they just want to be part of the discussion, even if that ultimately leads to the memorial being built at another site.
"Where is the best fit? We are still trying to figure that out," Karamargin said. "Our willingness is to work with anyone and everyone to build the best possible memorial."
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346.