One year since deadly Surfside collapse
Susie Rodriguez struggles to accept that a new building will soon replace her old home, Champlain Towers South, which collapsed a year ago, killing her friends and neighbors.
“It will be very strange to see another building there,” said Rodriguez, who was not in his condo during last summer’s tragic event. “I don’t think I could ever drive by Surfside and look at another building.”
Rodriguez is among the survivors grappling with the loss of their home and mourning those who died. In the year since the early morning June 24 collapse that killed 98 people, its effects have spread across South Florida.
Developers, seeking prime sites, have aggressively targeted buyouts of older properties. Florida lawmakers eventually passed condominium safety reforms, while local governments imposed stricter inspection requirements. And the collapse site is under contract to sell to a new-to-market developer who plans a luxury condominium on the 2-acre beachfront property.
The grand entrance of Damac
The court-appointed receiver of the Champlain Condominium Association reached a deal last fall to sell the 8777 Collins Avenue site to Damac Properties, a Dubai-based developer hungry for real estate in South Florida. . Damac, led by billionaire founder Hussain Sajwani, was the sole bidder for the property as local developers – such as Related Group, Terra and Fortune International Group – and even builders across the country, avoided bidding.
“We’re all fighting for big waterfront sites, but none of the big or small developers have been involved,” said Edgardo Defortuna, president of brokerage and development firm Fortune.
While outsiders or those removed from the collapse “might have a different perspective, it’s something I’d rather stay away from regardless of potential revenue generation,” he said. declared.
Damac is expected to close the $120 million cash purchase later this summer. Based on the price of the land, asking prices for units in the Damac project could start at around $4.5 million, said former Vice Mayor and Surfside Commissioner Dan Gielchinsky.
Founded in 2002 and primarily focused on development in the Middle East, Damac plans to build a Cavalli-branded condominium on the property to mark its U.S. debut. Although the developer has not disclosed further details of its plans, it will likely build large, luxurious units aimed at attracting overseas buyers buying a second, third or fourth home, experts speculate.
It might not exactly be a tough sell, as South Florida real estate has long catered to wealthy foreign buyers looking to park their cash.
“Your buyer persona is someone who doesn’t live in the United States,” Gielchinsky said. “And the memories are short. If people want a premium product and they’re making something cool, I think they’ll have little trouble selling units. I don’t think people are going to say, “I don’t want to live there.”
The ongoing sale to Damac marks one of the final stages as litigation over the collapse draws to a close. In court Thursday, Judge Michael Hanzman approved the $1.02 billion class action settlement and co-ownership termination (a technical process required for Damac to close on the ground). The judge, attorneys, survivors and those who lost loved ones spoke of the year-long effort to settle the lawsuit.
“I feared I would spend the next decade mired in legal proceedings,” said Eileen Rosenberg, whose daughter, Malky Weisz, died in the collapse. Thanking the judge for pushing for a quick resolution to the case, Rosenberg also shared his lingering pain at losing his daughter. “My aching heart is shattered into a million pieces and beyond repair,” she said. “Although I am physically here, I died with my Malky.”
To mark one year since the collapse, families of those who died will hold a private vigil early Friday morning at the site and light a memorial torch that will remain lit for three weeks, the time it took to recover the last victim.
It will be one of many events planned, including a public memorial event at 10 a.m. Friday also at the site of the collapse.
The collapse was a ‘catalyst’ for change
In May, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that eliminates the ability of associations to waive reservation requirements, institutes 30-year inspections of condominium buildings three stories or more, or 25 years if within three miles of the coast, and obliges the associations to carry out reserve studies with the structural components. Every decade after the initial inspections, associations will have to go through another recertification process. The law also opens up liability to condominium boards and their members if they fail to comply.
“The responsibility this bill places on boards and associations will further drive these self-directed associations to seek out professional firms,” said Doug Weinstein, vice president of operations at AKAM Property Management.
Weinstein called the law a good start that puts “real pressure” on associations to complete repair and restoration projects on time.
Legislation and pressure to force building owners to maintain their properties is making condominium living less affordable as associations increase their monthly dues or issue special assessments to pay for repairs and restoration projects that would otherwise have been postponed. indefinitely.
Before the statewide reforms passed last month, only buildings in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, as well as Boca Raton, had recertification requirements. Many communities would postpone major projects.
“These massive restorations have a huge financial impact, even with funding programs,” said Jonathan Weislow, vice president of business development at Amicon Management.
The collapse changed the priorities of co-owners and associations. “The conversations were focused on getting the cheapest contractor. Now it’s about finding the best, most capable contractor with the right team,” Weislow said, adding that before the collapse, “people used to assume a building was safe.”
Municipalities have also issued their own ordinances. In Miami-Dade, homeowners associations will be required to file structural reports, financial statements, insurance policies, budgets and planned major projects by February next year, and will continue to do so on an annual basis. The county would then post the information to a public database.
“Legislation has been a long time coming,” Weislow said. “What happened at Surfside was unfortunately a catalyst for those changes.”
Surfside embraces development
Surfside, a little-known town of less than 6,000 people that was thrust into the international spotlight after the collapse, is once again largely ignored. In March, residents rejected elected officials who were in office at the time of the collapse, in favor of a new pro-development mayor and commission.
Armed with a new ordinance aimed at making construction safer, including for older buildings, the authorities have approved condo projects near the Champlain site. Other projects are also already planned.
Yet concerns about safety remain commonplace. Some neighbors have raised issues with the new construction next door. A resident of a Surfside apartment building recently sued the city over its approval of a nearby project that the resident says could endanger her and her neighbors.
For decades, the half-square-mile city has imposed height and density limits to keep it from becoming like its neighbors to the north – the skyscraper mecca Sunny Isles Beach – and to the south – the cosmopolitan Miami Beach.
In March, Surfside voters approved a referendum that determines how beachfront developable lots are measured to ensure uniform height and less density, although this is unlikely to have a major impact on redevelopment of the site. Champlain, which allows up to 139 units and one building. up to 120 feet in height.
This year, the commission unanimously approved two new Fort Partners projects. Fort Partners, the developer of the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences at the Surf Club, remained bullish on Surfside. It buys the site immediately to the south, at 8995 Collins Avenue, where the city has approved plans for an 11-story, 19-unit development. Fort is also building the Seaway Villas project north of the Four Seasons. (The nearby resident who is suing the city for approval of the seaway project fears construction will damage her apartment building.)
Ultimately, the potential effect of new construction on adjacent buildings, as well as other structural and geological issues, are site-specific, experts say.
“Everyone needs to learn from Surfside and start being proactive about how our buildings are built, what kind of maintenance have we been doing, are we doing the right kind of inspection?” said Randall Parkinson, associate research professor at Florida International University. “I think it’s important to know that not everyone is at the same risk. Not everyone is Surfside.