Jun 23, 2023 - News

Two years later, fight continues over memorial for Surfside collapse

Surfside condo collapse victims' names are displayed during the one-year anniversary in 2022. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ever since his sister, brother-in-law and 96 others were killed in the Surfside condo collapse, Martin Langesfeld has fought to get a memorial built at the site of the disaster.

  • With Saturday marking the tragedy's two-year anniversary, Langesfeld is running out of time and facing an uphill climb.

Driving the news: The nearly 2-acre oceanfront plot where Champlain Towers South once stood was sold last year, and plans were submitted last summer to build a luxury tower in its place.

Zoom in: Langesfeld is calling on Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger to broker a deal with developer Damac Properties to carve out half an acre for a memorial in exchange for extra height or density on the future building.

  • "We will not stop until a memorial gets incorporated on the site of the collapse," Langesfeld told Axios. "We do not build over dead bodies in America."

Yes, but: The town has strict zoning codes, and it would take a referendum to allow a developer to surpass height or density limits.

  • Danzinger told Axios the plan is a non-starter and that he is focused on building a memorial park next to the site, on a portion of 88th Street by the beach.
Martin and Pablo Langesfeld look at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South, where their loved one died.
Martin Langesfeld (right) looks at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South. Photo: Courtesy of Martin Langesfeld

Catch up quick: Langesfeld and other family members have long argued that the portion of the building where their loved ones died — an estimated 0.44 acres — is sacred land that should be exempt from development.

  • A judge overseeing the class-action lawsuit stemming from the collapse ordered the property be sold to compensate former unit owners and victims' families but said he did not have the power to donate land for a memorial.
  • Danzinger proposed setting aside a sliver along the side of the property — a roughly 10-foot setback — for a smaller memorial, but said he dropped the idea due to a lack of support from Langesfeld and others.

Between the lines: Langesfeld insists his hope for a memorial onsite has the backing of other families and over 9,000 signatories to an online petition, but Danzinger said the families are "fragmented."

  • "Every family member that I speak to has another opinion on everything," he said. "It's very hard for us to navigate the wills and the wants."

Langesfeld said communications with the mayor have broken down. He remains skeptical of a private meeting Danzinger held with billionaire Damac founder Hussain Sajwani in Dubai late last year.

  • Danzinger told Axios he was in the Middle East to see his son and also scheduled a meeting with Sajwani. The two parties discussed a possible memorial on the site, he said.
  • But at a public meeting last year, a Damac representative expressed his concerns about ceding property for a memorial.

What we're watching: The town has launched a search for landscaping companies for the adjacent memorial park project. A memorial committee composed of Langesfeld and other victims' loved ones will offer input through the design process.

  • Danzinger said he hopes to select a firm by the end of the year, and "God willing," to see a permanent memorial in a few years.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are trying to pinpoint the cause of the collapse and will issue a report in 2025 with their findings.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Miami.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Miami stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Miami.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more