Damac begins tense talks about Surfside memorial

Families of victims are seeking memorial at site where 98 people died

Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger and Damac's Hussain Sajwani with the Surfside collapse site (LinkedIn, Farees Jamal CC0 via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)
Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger and Damac's Hussain Sajwani with the Surfside collapse site (LinkedIn, Farees Jamal CC0 via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)

Family members of the victims of the Surfside condo collapse met with Damac Properties, the new owner of the site, Monday evening, leading to a tense exchange over a future memorial.

The public meeting opened with Martin Langesfeld, whose sister Nicole Langesfeld died, walking over to Damac’s representative to hand him photos of the 98 people who perished in the collapse of Champlain Towers South on June 24 of last year. Langesfeld wants a memorial to be built on part of the 8777 Collins Avenue site where the victims died, calling it “the most important thing for us as families.”

“Something needs to go on the site as respect, the reason you guys will be profiting,” Langesfeld said. He called for Damac to yield a few feet on the north side of the site, saying that is where one of the staircases collapsed, killing many of the victims.

Surfside town officials have designated 88th Street, immediately north of the former Champlain Towers South, for a memorial, although Langesfeld disputed that the entirety of the street is dedicated. Mayor Shlomo Danziger said the town would have to check with transportation officials.

“If you’re trying to build where 98 souls are there… how are you going to build thinking you’re not going to damage any other family?” said Nicole’s mother, Andrea Langesfeld. “You’re looking for money, a return of investment. We are looking for respect of our loved ones.”

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Damac, led by founder and chairman Hussain Sajwani, plans to build a Cavalli-branded luxury condo development on the oceanfront property. The Dubai developer was the sole bidder, paying $120 million for the 2 acres of land in July. At Monday evening’s meeting, Damac’s representative said the developer expects to begin construction in the first half of 2024.

The representative said Damac is willing to listen to the families to understand what they are seeking, but at the same time, it’s a commercial venture. “We have to look after our shareholders’ interests,” he said.

A major stumbling block to moving forward: Damac needs to know what kind of memorial the families envision, whether it’s a plaque, or a wall paying homage to the victims, or something else. For his part, Langesfeld said the families can’t provide a concrete answer until they know how much of the site Damac would yield for a memorial.

Although both sides reiterated they are willing to collaborate, another exchange came when Langesfeld said he had been trying to reach out to Damac for over a year to discuss a memorial. The Damac representative said it’s unclear whom Langesfeld could have been calling, as the site purchase was “up in the air” until recently.

“What if it was your kids, or your parents? What would you want?” Langesfeld asked the Damac representative, who didn’t respond.

Danziger, acting as a mediator of sorts during the meeting, at one point responded to Langesfeld’s notion that this was a negotiation. Ultimately, Damac owns the site, and the families of those who died are making “an ask,” Danzinger said.

“I think the fact that [Damac representatives] are at the table,” he said, “says a lot.”