Surfside families ask for help buying the collapse site for the memorial


Vicky Btesh, who lost her husband, Andres Levine, speaks as families of Surfside collapse victims held a press conference Thursday, September 23, 2021 at the Champlain Towers South Condo collapse site to request the construction of a memorial where 98 victims died in Surfside, Florida.

Vicky Btesh, who lost her husband, Andres Levine, speaks as families of Surfside collapse victims held a press conference Thursday, September 23, 2021 at the Champlain Towers South Condo collapse site to request the construction of a memorial where 98 victims died in Surfside, Florida.

After a Miami-Dade judge warned their activism could hinder the planned sale of the Champlain Towers South condominium property, the families of those who died in the Surfside collapse held a press conference on Thursday to demand that a memorial be built on the site of the collapse instead of a luxury tower.

Standing in front of the spot where 98 people died nearly three months ago, the group of family members held up photos of their loved ones and repeated a slogan they created to support their efforts: “We don’t. let’s not build on corpses ”.

They called on federal and state governments, philanthropists and business leaders to step in and buy the 1.9 acre beachfront land before it was sold to an unknown bidder offering $ 120 million for build a new development.

“This place is sacred,” said Ronit Felszer, whose 21-year-old son Ilan Naibryf died in the collapse. “It is unacceptable that the last place my son was alive was anything other than a memorial.”

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Families of Surfside collapse victims gather as they hold a press conference Thursday, September 23, 2021 at the Champlain Towers South Condo collapse site to demand the construction of a memorial where 98 victims are died in Surfside, Florida. Pedro Portal

The family members were joined by Monica Iken-Murphy, whose husband was killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Iken-Murphy, who worked on the construction of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, volunteered to help Surfside families raise funds and raise government awareness.

“I just want to be clear so that everyone in America understands the importance, that we are not building in America on dead people. We just don’t do that. And I won’t allow it while I’m here, ”Iken-Murphy said.

Despite their best efforts, the land could be sold as planned in early spring. And Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who oversees the class action sale, said holding press conferences to criticize the sale and branding the land “sacred” in the media could decrease the value of the property, reducing the eventual payment for estates of victims and survivors who owned units in the building.

“They scare away potential bidders and they also make the land less valuable for the few who bid,” Hanzman said in court Thursday before the press conference. “They are going to lower the value of this asset.”

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A man walks his dog near the Champlain Towers South property in Surfside, Florida on Thursday, September 23, 2021. Pedro Portal

The Champlain Towers South Condominium Association court-appointed receiver has said the $ 120 million sale will be formalized in a contract next week. Other potential buyers can still submit offers for the property. It could take until early spring to complete the sale of the land, receiver Michael Goldberg said.

Speakers at the press conference did not mention Hanzman’s comments. But Vicki Btesh, whose husband, Andres Levine, and two cousins ​​died in the collapse, told Hanzman that she and other family members were not trying to devalue the land. She said they wanted to find a way to put a memorial on the site and sell the land to compensate the survivors and the families of the victims.

“I think there are more options and I think they should be explored,” Btesh said in court.

Other nearby properties have been suggested as the site of a future memorial to the victims of the collapse, including at Miami Beach Oceanside Park and Surfside on 88th Street or near the city’s tennis center.

The families initially proposed an idea to swap public land by the sea to the prospective buyer of the South Champlain Towers site so that a memorial could be built there, but Surfside commissioners said they would not support not land swap. The proposal would involve demolishing the Surfside Community Center and building a new one next to the memorial.

Families said Thursday they were focusing on raising money to buy the land. Martin Langesfeld, whose sister Nicole Langesfeld and brother-in-law Luis Sadovnic died in the collapse, said he hoped local, state and federal leaders “support, respect and help our efforts to build a memorial.”

The property has long been cleared of the rubble from the collapsed tower, all of which was transported to a remote site, where county teams continued to search for human remains. Although all 98 victims have been identified, Langesfeld said the remains of many of the victims are still missing.

“And this land will forever be their resting place,” Langesfeld said.

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Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, center, joined the families of the Surfside collapse victims at a press conference Thursday, September 23, 2021 at the Champlain Towers South Condo collapse site to request the construction of a memorial where 98 victims died in Surfside, Florida. Pedro Portal

Raising enough money for an alternative sale will pose challenges, including the concerns of unit owners who have lost their homes in the collapse. Moshe Candiotti, who lived in Unit 407, watched the press conference and said he supported the construction of a memorial – but not at the expense of its compensation. He said he had invested almost $ 400,000 in his condo and wanted help quickly as he currently lives in a hotel.

“I support a memorial,” he said. “But don’t throw us out on the streets.”

Langesfeld later said in a statement that families would “exhaust all available resources to ensure victims are compensated as needed.”

“Just to clarify, we are not asking unit owners to donate,” he said. “We call on the city, state and federal government to purchase this land to respect and honor the 98 innocent victims who died in their homes. Another option would be worldwide philanthropists and corporations. “

This story was originally published September 23, 2021 at 7.42 pm.

Martin Vassolo covers Miami Beach politics and government for the Miami Herald. He started working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he was editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter in the Herald subway office and political reporting intern.


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