An oceanfront park is emerging as the leading site for a memorial to the victims of the deadly condominium building collapse in Florida, a judge said Wednesday.
The city of Miami Beach recently offered a portion of the 28-acre North Beach Oceanside Park as the potential location to remember the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building, which killed 98 people.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a remote hearing Wednesday it was unrealistic to pursue any plan for a memorial where the 12-story condo once stood as some family members wish.
That nearly 2-acre location in Surfside, he said, must be sold to compensate victims of the tragedy. At least one bidder has offered up to $120 million for the property.
“It has to be used for the benefit of all the victims collectively,” Hanzman said. The park, he added, is “a remarkable and extremely valuable piece of real estate. I understand this is a beautiful site that is within walking distance.”
Still, some family members of collapse victims say they would prefer a fitting memorial at the exact location.
“I believe the memorial should be at Surfside, and not Miami Beach, at the site of the tragedy,” said Pablo Langenfeld, whose daughter and son-in-law died in the collapse.
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“For us, it's not a matter of money,” added David Rodan, whose brother and a cousin were among the victims.
But Hanzman said options other than the park for a memorial are extremely limited. The park is about 100 feet (30 meters) from the collapse site and was used as a command site for search and rescue teams.
“I'm not going to give people false hope,” the judge said.
Hanzman also suggested the Town of Surfside should not pursue a zoning change that could reduce from 205 to 139 the number of units in a potential new building — which would decrease the location's value.
The judge said he would be “beyond shocked” if the zoning change were enacted. An attorney for the town said the issue has been considered for more than a year but has not yet been decided.
“I need to know what we have to work with here,” Hanzman said. “Circumstances do change.”
The judge is overseeing numerous lawsuits brought since the Champlain Towers collapse, all of which are being consolidated into a single case with a court-appointed receiver handling finances. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the 40-year-old building to collapse, which came years after initial warnings about serious structural flaws.