The makeshift memorial on the tennis court fence is gone, and now Surfside is grappling with a thorny question: where should we build the permanent memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers condo collapse?
One group of families who lost loved ones in the collapse are adamant that a memorial should be placed at the site where the victims died.
“Their lives were not lost in vain because thanks to those 98 people, now everyone is gonna build better, everyone is gonna inspect their buildings earlier, everyone is gonna reinforce their buildings so this doesn’t happen again. We owe them the honor of a memorial because thanks to them, no one else is gonna go through what we’re going through,” said David Rodan, who lost his brother, Moises Rodan, two cousins, Andres Levine and Luis Sadovnic, and Sadovnic’s wife, Nicky Langesfeld.
Rodan says the best way to honor the victims and still get a fair price for the Champlain Towers property is for the town of Surfside to swap its community center site, which is six blocks north, for the Champlain Towers land.
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They envision a developer building on the community center site, and the town building a new community center along with a memorial on the Champlain Towers site, but they know it is an uphill climb.
“It feels like salt is being rubbed into the wound and when it’s a time to grieve, it’s very hard to have to stand up and continue to fight to honor the ones we lost,” said Martin Langesfeld, who lost his sister, Nicky.
Town Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer says the land swap idea is deeply unpopular with her constituents and with her colleagues on the town commission. She said the town is committed to a memorial, and she wants to see it placed across from the collapse site.
“This is a collective pain, a collective tragedy and trauma for the whole community, and we’re gonna do what we need to do to heal from this and that includes a memorial," Salzhauer said. "Now that memorial cannot be on the site of Champlain unless the owners of Champlain want to donate a portion of that land for a memorial."
It is a money issue. If the unit owners decide collectively to carve out a piece of the land for a memorial, it could lower the sale price by millions of dollars. That option is acceptable to the Rodan and Langesfeld families.
“I’m not a judge, I’m not God, I’m a father and as a father I will move heaven and earth to see justice and to see a memorial on that site, I fight for that,” said Pablo Langesfeld, Nicky’s dad.