– The Miami Herald Editorial Board
Date: July 15th, 2021
We have just entered the third week since the horrific collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, such a short amount of time, it seems, to start putting a price tag on the property where the building once stood.
The people most closely touched are still grieving. Rescue workers, now in recovery mode, are tired, but tireless in their determination to finish the job. Tons of shattered concrete have been carted away. As of this writing, 97 victims have been recovered. More, surely, will follow.
Wednesday saw the release of the frantic, and unnerving, calls to 911 from that horrible night. That same day, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, assigned to deal with the herculean financial and legal ramifications of the tragedy, announced his first significant legal decision: The process for the sale of the prime oceanfront parcel where Champlain Towers South once stood can begin, immediately.
The decision all but scuttles any plans to turn the site at 8777 Collins Ave. into solely a memorial for those who died. It’s a decision some relatives found painful to accept. Hanzman said converting the entire Champlain property to a memorial would not generate much money for those who will be compensated.
Although we agree with the judge’s intent to compensate the families as generously as possible, these families’ displeasure at the decision is a reminder that emotions are so raw, that even well-intended decisions will not please everyone every step of the long, long way this case must travel. Already the tragedy’s aftermath is peppered with both class-action and individual lawsuits.
It’s a reminder, too, that the thoughts of victims’ survivors should, when appropriate, be factored in.
As expected, some family members do not want the land where the condominium stood to be sold, even for as much the $110 million that would be divided among survivors, along with the disbursement of millions more in insurance payments for property and personal damages.
Instead, they want a memorial for their loved ones at the site, they said at an emergency news conference Wednesday night.
“This is not about money; there are religious reasons families want the land preserved as a memorial,” Miami attorney Renier Diaz de la Portilla told the Editorial Board late Wednesday. Diaz de la Portilla, working pro bono, represents Martin Lagesfeld, whose sister Nicole Lagesfeld and brother-in-law Louis Sadovnic, perished in the collapse. “These victims need a proper memorial and proper burial.”
Diaz de la Portilla said the Lagesfeld family is “shocked” at the speed at which Hanzman has moved to dispense of the property. He said families are uniting to fight the judicial order and make a memorial a reality.
We envision an outcome that is less either-or and more of a holistic hybrid. A memorial, indeed, should a part of any other plans for the property.
This is such a sensitive, emotional case, one that will demand patience, empathy, negotiation and, of course, legal rigor. It’s important that all parties find a measure of peace and solace.