Surfside Commissioners Nix Plan to Build Community Center, Memorial on Condo Collapse Site

Commissioners in Surfside, Florida, have nixed a plan to build a community center and memorial to the 98 victims on the condominium collapse site through a land swap proposal.

During a meeting Tuesday, family members of the victims who died in the June 24 collapse and town residents filled the commission chambers, the Miami Herald reported. After about an hour of public comment, commissioners said they were rejecting the new community center proposal entirely.

Commissioners said they would not be putting the land swap proposal before voters in a referendum, and Commissioners Eliana Salzhauer and Nelly Velasquez had appealed for those opposed to the idea to speak up.

"This is the moment we come together as a community to defend our community center and all town-owned properties," Velasquez wrote on social media.

The town "will NOT allow this tragedy to be exploited for profit and become the undoing or Surfside's priceless community center and our residents' quality of life," Salzhauer wrote separately.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Surfside Memorial
Commissioners rejected the proposal to build a new community center and memorial on the side of the deadly Surfside condominium collapse during a meeting on September 14, 2021. Victim's relatives mourn at the makeshift memorial where the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building stood in Surfside, Fla., on August 24, 2021. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

"My heart breaks for you because I know this is something that you were getting your hopes up about," Mayor Charles Burkett, who was the lone supporter of the proposal, said. "I hope you will not give up hope."

Deliberations were interrupted at times by upset family members, the Miami Herald reported. One man yelled, "Let the people vote!" A woman pressed Salzhauer on her recent comments, saying: "You called us delusional."

The board agreed to explore ways to build a victims' memorial, either on a sliver of land where part of the tower fell, or at another location.

Currently, an offer of $120 million for the Champlain Towers South property is on the table. The swap plan would have allowed the buyer to build a tower instead at the site of Surfside's 10-year-old community center, which features an oceanfront pool and waterslide and multi-purpose rooms. A new center would be built, along with a memorial, at the disaster site.

Miami-Dade Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing the class-action lawsuit over the collapse, had favored the swap as a way of compensating victims through a property sale while enabling a memorial to be built.

"It shouldn't be their decision, it should be the residents' decision," said David Rodan, whose brother and three cousins died in the collapse. "They're afraid because they know that the residents want to do the right thing, they want to look back in history and see a memorial where it should be instead of a building."

Rodan told the Herald that he and his group will continue pushing for a referendum.

"The community wants to see a memorial there and if the land swap is the only option, the community is willing to move their community center five blocks," Rodan said.

However, some residents who oppose the land swap told commissioners they support a memorial site, but not at the expense of the community center.

"I'm in favor of a memorial. I think it's only right for the victims and their families. I'm not in favor of a land swap," Surfside resident Paul O'Malley told NBC6.

Raquel Oliveira, whose husband and 5-year-old son died in the collapse, asked commissioners to help the families find a way to build a memorial.

"Maybe the swap is not the best option or maybe it is," she said. "What I ask is that we have a little bit of time to take the right decision."

Surfside Mayor
Commissioners rejected the proposal to build a new community center and memorial on the site of the deadly Surfside condominium collapse. In this Sunday, July 11, 2021, file photo, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett gives remarks during the daily morning news conference outside the County's operational center in Surfside, Florida. Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File