A memorial downtown will house some items such as these, left on the front lawn of UAMC after the Safeway shooting in 2011. It will display “the kindness, the caring and love that came forward,” U.S. Rep Ron Barber said.

David Sanders / Arizona Daily Star 2011

The search has begun for the design team that will create a memorial to the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting in Tucson.

It’s a challenging job: Tucson’s Jan. 8 memorial will serve as a tangible, visual remembrance of those we lost that day— Dorothy “Dot” Morris, Dorwan Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman. It will remind us that others were grievously injured, among them U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the mentally ill shooter.

It also will memorialize our community’s shared horror during the difficult aftermath and celebrate its outpouring of support.

The site for the memorial has been chosen — at the historic Pima County Courthouse in El Presidio Park. We like that choice very much.

After the shootings, spontaneous memorials sprouted on the lawn at the University of Arizona Medical Center, outside Giffords’ Tucson office and at the Safeway where the attack took place.

But installing a permanent memorial at any of those sites made no sense. A central public area is more appropriate, and the Presidio in downtown Tucson more than fits the bill. It’s the site where our European history began in 1775, when Tucson became the northernmost outpost of New Spain. It’s surrounded by government buildings and located close to the Convention Center, the Tucson Museum of Art and much more. And the park already hosts many community events, including the annual Tucson Meet Yourself festival.

The design will include a proposal for redesigning the entire El Presidio Park, though the January 8th Memorial Foundation board of directors don’t plan to actually follow through on that project. They’re asking for that plan because “We felt we couldn’t do a good job for a memorial that didn’t provide a vision for what the plaza could be,” the foundation’s president, Karen Christensen, told us.

“We see this as an opportunity to give the city and county some guidance on how that plaza could be built in the future as a community space,” she said.

This week the foundation board opened an invitation to artists, architects and designers to submit their qualifications and apply to compete for an opportunity to design the project’s exterior spaces. Up to five finalists will be chosen from among those who apply and they will be asked to submit El Presidio master plans and memorial design plans.

During the first year after the shootings, the January 8th Memorial Foundation board conducted lots of meetings with various “stakeholders,” including survivors and first responders.

“People felt in the aftermath that somehow Tucson’s true colors and spirit … came together. We found that people want to remember those we lost and those who were injured, but they also want to keep that spirit alive,” said Christensen.

The budget for the “exterior” memorial outside the courthouse will be between $1 million and $2 million, Stephen Brigham, past president of the memorial board and director of capital planning and project for the UA Health Network, told us. The foundation is doing fundraising, including from major foundations and donors. Some money will come from the state, and from grants.

The memorial will also include interior space on the first floor of the historic courthouse that will be developed in partnership with Pima County and the Tucson Museum of Art. It will offer information about what happened on Jan. 8 and how Tucson came together in the aftermath.

Pam Simon, a Giffords staffer who was wounded in the attack and serves on the memorial foundation’s board, said that in the days after the shooting, when she was wheeled onto a balcony at the medical center to see the memorials on the lawn, “it said to me the community was there.” She sees the permanent memorial in part as commemorating that spirit, “what it means to be a community.”

As for the warehoused materials — 30,000 items, including cards, candles, posters and so much more — that were collected from the spontaneous memorials around town, they won’t be stored forever, Simon said.

“It is being recorded, digitized,” she said. “Candles may go to artists. Some things may go to special foundations or organizations to be used or displayed. We will find meaningful ways to dispose of it.” She noted, for instance, that flowers and plants from the memorials were used as compost in community gardens.

The board hopes to select a design team — or the finalists — by Jan. 8, 2015, begin construction by Jan. 8, 2016 and to formally open the memorial by Jan. 8, 2017.