Surfside families fight for memorial at site of condo collapse


(NewsNation) — Sixteen months after a condo collapsed in Surfside, Florida, killing 98 people, the cause of the collapse is still under investigation and some families say they feel forgotten.

Martin Langesfeld, who lost his sister and brother-in-law in the collapse, said politicians and developers “don’t care” about the families anymore now that the cameras are gone. He criticized the sale of the land, which sparked a bitter fight between victims’ families who seek a memorial and survivors who hoped for financial compensation.

“The land was on the market for sale before we could have a funeral for my sister,” Langesfeld said Monday during an appearance on “CUOMO.” “They don’t care. (They moved forward) like nothing happened.”

The oceanfront condo building Champlain Towers South partially fell to the ground June 24, 2021, sparking the largest non-hurricane emergency response in Florida history. In the ensuing days and weeks, 98 people were declared dead.

While an official cause is still under investigation, several media outlets reported on structural problems and construction flaws that likely played a factor. The official report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology isn’t expected to be ready for years.

A judge ordered the land be sold to a developer, and Dubai-based developer DAMAC bought it for $120 million. Though a temporary memorial currently sits on the land, the city has been engaging in efforts to work with the developer on a permanent edifice.

Former Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer, who was serving on the city commission at the time of the collapse, said what happened after is a perfect example of “nothing stopping the development machine” in south Florida.

“This is about greed. From day one, this was about turning that piece of property over to the next developer,” Salzhauer said. “They sold the land out from under (the families), and now Martin has to go there with his hands out begging for a couple feet of space for a memorial for his sister.”

A judge approved a compensation settlement topping $1 billion for the victims, while condo owners will split nearly $100 million. Salzhaur took issue with the compensation for lawyers.

“I know people who have been paying their mortgage on an apartment that doesn’t exist,” Salzhauer said. “Meanwhile, the lawyers went home with $65 million, and that is what’s wrong with America and the legal system.”

Citing the memorial for 9/11 victims at Ground Zero in New York, Langesfeld argued it’s not unprecedented to forgo redevelopment in favor of honoring those who lost their lives.

“There’s absolutely no excuse to not respect the land where so many died,” Langesfeld said.

The committee that’s discussing a memorial last met in September, at which Langesfeld, the Surfside mayor and developers discussed how much square footage on the site could be dedicated for a memorial.

“If someone wants a 100-foot spire, that’s not something that would be compatible with a residential building,” a representative for the developer said at the meeting. “A wall, something like that, could be there on the site, it could be adjacent to the site. There’s all sort of options of the way forward without saying it has to be this or it has to be that. We’re here to listen.”

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