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Some Relatives Want Surfside Site To Be A Memorial. The Judge Overseeing The Property's Sale Says It Won't Happen

Vicky Btesh speaks at a press conference after a hearing about what will happen on the site where the surfside condo collapsed in June. Her husband died there and she wants a memorial on the property.
Verónica Zaragovia
Vicky Btesh's husband, Andrés Levine, died in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside. She joined a group on Sept. 23, 2021 to call on an entity that would build a memorial for the 98 people who died to buy the property.

As engineers investigate what caused the Champlain Towers South condo building to collapse about three months ago, tension keeps growing over what purpose the site should serve. What should happen where 98 people died?

Some grieving family members say the land is a sacred space and should be sold to become a memorial to honor the dead.

The judge overseeing the property’s sale, however, is moving ahead with a different plan. After the disaster, he appointed attorney Michael Goldberg to become the receiver who manages all of the logistics of selling the property. Last week he had an update for Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman.

"Your honor, another bit of significant news," Goldberg began. "I'm happy to report that yesterday we received a signed contract on the land. It is a stalking horse contract."

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Stalking horse means this initial bid sets up a timeline for an auction to happen next year, around February or March. They could get at least $120 million, the price offered by an anonymous bidder recently.

Judge Hanzman, who's overseeing the collapse-related litigation and the sale of the property, said maybe other interested buyers will offer even more money, but he cautioned families of victims against turning to the press to call for the land where their loved ones died to be preserved as a memorial.

"The memorial is going to have to be on another site because I am not going to obligate a buyer who hopefully will pay up to $150 million for this property," Hanzman said. "I am not going to impose any conditions on that buyer as to what they can do with their asset. And the property is going to be sold."

He said people have a right to their opinions, but railing against a new condo building over sacred ground could mean families and survivors - including the critics - could get less money from selling the property.

"They may be very well intentioned, I assume they are, but they’re doing harm," Hanzman said. "Because they’re devaluing the property. They’re scaring away potential bidders. And they’re also making the land less valuable to those few that those bid."

He also said he hopes the quotes in the media stop.

"We will knock every single door that we need to knock without turning away when we’re being told no," said Martin Langesfeld, explaining that they’re not going to stop. "Because we’ve been told no everyday and that has not stopped any of us."

Langesfeld’s sister, Nicole "Nicky" Langesfeld and his brother-in-law, Luis Sadovnic, died in the collapse.

Langesfeld joined a group who gathered after the court hearing to make their case for the memorial. They held up photos of their loved ones who died.

"Let me be very clear: We do not build over dead bodies," he said. "We ask for respect and we ask for a memorial on this site and not one inch away. Here, because we do not build over dead bodies. We ask the people in the positions of power to please work with us in doing the right thing."

Vicky Btesh lost her husband, Andrés Levine, on June 24. She, too, said a memorial needs to go right there, pointing behind her.

"Not at the park. Not at the tennis court and not anywhere else," Btesh said, amid tears. "At 8777 Collins Avenue. A reminder of what happened here and for it not to happen again. We urge any private donor or government entity that wish to support us to reach out to us. We need you and we will be eternally grateful for your help and support."

Before people left, a clergy member named Reverend Bill Minson tried to comfort the victims' families.

"Remember our prayers for you," he said. Minson said he's been traveling to disaster sites, including the former World Trade Center and the site of the shootings in Las Vegas, on anniversaries to pray with grieving families. "You will see better days. God bless everyone of you."

"But the rest of the people that don’t have home — now I don’t have home. Where do I go?" said Moshe Candiotti, distressed over the need to get money from the sale of the land.

"I don’t have money," Candiotti added. "I don’t have the money to buy. Already three months I live in hotel."

"You deserve a blessing. God will provide for you," Minson said.

"I know but I don’t want donation…." replied Candiotti, 67, who said he'd fully paid off his unit, no. 407.

"I was reading, I wasn't sleeping at exactly the first vibration," he said. "I went to the balcony and I saw a lot of dust from both sides. Then I realized that I have to get out. I went to the hallway and it was pitch black. I went to the stairs and the exit was jammed because of the weight of the building. I managed to open it and I left with my life, thank God."

"It's going to take maybe five years for me to rebuild myself. Everything collapsed — the building collapsed and I feel my life also collapsed," he said. "If they build memorial I’m happy with it, but at least give us the same money of the market value and I’ll come to take care of the garden, too. I don’t mind."

Judge Hanzman scheduled a court hearing for later this week on the anonymous bidder’s contract. The judge needs to approve it in order for the sale to proceed to a developer.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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