BY REBECCA SAN JUAN – Miami Herald
Surfside has received plans for a luxury high-rise on the site of the deadly Champlain Towers South condominium collapse almost two years ago, bringing clarity — and, for some, disappointment — regarding redevelopment of the property tied to the tragedy. Dubai-based developer Damac International submitted two design options this week to the Town of Surfside to erect a 12-story condominium building at 8777 Collins Ave. The developer intends for the building to have 57 residences, spanning between 4,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet, on the 1.8-acre beachfront lot. The building would include a business center, community events space, indoor pool and rooftop pool with cabanas.
The designs look nearly identical, although one depicts a more boxed-in structure and the other a “wedding cake” design, with wider sides and larger ground floor. The latter design would mirror that of the nearby Arte Surfside condo tower. The number of residences, building height and proximity to the beach are the same in both building designs. Price tags aren’t set, but it’s highly likely the developer would ask well over $1 million for each residence.
London’s Zaha Hadid Architects, the namesake firm of the Pritzker-prize winning architect, designed the new Surfside real estate project. Before her death in 2016, Hadid’s final project was the One Thousand Museum in downtown Miami. The architectural firm took inspiration from Surfside’s beaches, the movement of waves and the warm glow of sand during sunrise and sunset when designing Damac’s condo project.
“It is a tough site. It is a charged site. It’s a beautiful site,” said Chris Lepine, director of Zaha Hadid Architects. “We owe it to this site to bring something glorious to it. That’s what we want to achieve here.”
Damac International officials declined to comment about its new condo proposal. Surfside’s mayor and town manager didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Miami Herald for comment.
The Dubai developer was the lone bidder for the property, paying $120 million last summer to buy it. The 12-story Champlain Towers South stood there since the early 1980s, before collapsing on June 24, 2021. Ninety-eight people lost their lives. A Miami Herald investigation showed signs of worsening structural issues and faulty engineering at the time of construction, but an official report has yet to be released explaining the definitive cause of the building collapse.
The tragedy shook a tight Surfside community, and later led to local and statewide condominium reforms. Yet, a memorial to those who died when the tower fell has bogged down. During a town commission meeting Tuesday, officials said a portion of 88th Street would be dedicated to a memorial. Some family members of the victims pushed back, urging the commission to continue negotiations for a memorial on the site of the condominium collapse where Damac now wants to build. The fate of the developer’s plans rests with the commission. If approved, it’s unlikely construction would start before the end of the year or early 2024.
“We need to show the world that in America we don’t build over dead people. We respect the horrific tragedy that took 98 of our loved ones with a memorial on the site of the collapse,” said Martin Langesfeld, the brother and brother-in-law of two victims in the Surfside collapse.
Supporters nationwide of the victims’ families have contributed their time and efforts pushing for a memorial. A notable one is Monica Iken, founder of September’s Mission, a nonprofit dedicated to remembering the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. Iken rallied for a memorial in Manhattan, where her husband lost his life in the terrorist attack causing the twin towers of the World Trade Center to crumble.
Damac International’s condo project faces a dicey future, said real estate analyst Ana Bozovic, founder of Analytics Miami and Miami Dealsheet. Those with a memory or connection to the tragedy are unlikely to buy in the new building, as well as any potential buyer looking to turn a profit with a quick condo resale.
However, foreign buyers and people wanting to own for the long-term may be willing to spend millions for a waterfront condo there. Bozovic said there’s still demand for luxury condo living in South Florida, despite a slight slowdown in sales. South Florida continues to benefit, she said, from wealthy newcomers from across the country, especially the Northeast.
“It’s noteworthy that no local developers bid on it,” Bozovic said of the Collins Avenue property. “Local developers didn’t want the karma.
“As far as the viability of this site moving forward, people have short memories. As time passes the impact of what happened will lessen. People not here and who have no personal attachment to those who died will buy there.”
Staff reporter Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this story.