Champlain Towers South Survivors Seek ‘Land Swap’ to Memorialize Site

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The land under the fallen Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Fla., officially hit the market earlier this week with a starting price of $120 million, as developers vie for the valuable piece of land — but some victims are hoping to avoid its sale altogether through a “land swap”.

Developers could purchase the site of a nearby community center to build a new condo building, and allow the site of the tragedy — which killed 98 people — to become a memorial, victims and their surviving families suggested at a court hearing Wednesday. 

SEE ALSO: Champlain Towers South Site in Surfside to be Sold by Next Spring

The judge overseeing the site has pushed for the sale of the property in order to compensate the victims. The site is expected to go to auction within the next several months, and developers are already lining up to bid for the property. 

But some survivors of the tragedy are dismayed by the prospect of the site being turned into another condo building. The land on which Champlain Towers South stood is a “burial site for us,” Carlos Wainberg, who lost family members in the collapse, said in the court hearing over Zoom. “To see a high-end development built would be very hard for all of us.”

Instead, they want potential buyers to purchase the Town of Surfside Community Center located at 9301 Collins Avenue, less than a mile down the road from the Champlain Towers South site, explained Mauricio Kaufman, who lost both of his parents in the collapse. The town’s community center would be rebuilt on the land of the fallen condo site, which would also house a memorial.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman lauded the proposal, saying “it sounds like a possible win-win.” Given the parcel’s similar locations, the plan could adequately compensate victims, while also allowing the site of the tragedy to be turned into a memorial, the judge explained. 

Surfside town officials have yet to sign off on the proposal. Such a decision would require a vote by the town’s five commissioners, said a Surfside spokesperson, who are scheduled to meet on Sept. 14.

Other hurdles to complete a sale remain. Surfside officials are in the process of revising the town’s zoning rules. The new rules could affect the value of the Champlain Towers South property by limiting the number of units that can be built. As it currently stands, the site allows for 139 units to be built, similar to the 136 units that were lost, Tony Recio, a zoning lawyer working for the city of Surfside, said during the hearing. Officials are expected to make a decision next week. 

If the proposed land exchange falls apart, a memorial could come to Miami Beach. Dan Gelber, the mayor of Miami Beach, offered a portion of the nearby North Beach Oceanside Park for a memorial site, said court-appointed receiver Michael Golberg during a previous court hearing. The proposal has yet to be approved. 

Julia Echikson can be reached at jechikson@commercialobserver.com.