Deadly Florida condo collapse reveals city’s strong class divide

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SURFSIDE, Florida – The collapse of the condo tower in Surfside could exacerbate the division that already exists between small-town Florida’s new luxury buildings built for the global elite and those built decades ago for the class average. This is already creating headaches for small businesses.

The city has seen the construction of many new condos in recent years, where large oceanfront units over 3,000 square feet with modern amenities can fetch $ 10 million and more. Meanwhile, small 800-square-foot units in neighboring condo buildings built decades ago can be purchased for $ 400,000.

Ana Bozovic, a South Florida real estate broker, said the June 24 collapse of Champlain Towers South, a 40-year-old middle-class business, will exacerbate that division. At least 36 people have been killed and more than 100 are still missing.

Bozovic said many buyers will now avoid older buildings, not only because they fear they might fall as well, but because of the repair costs that owners of Champlain Sud had to face prior to the collapse: $ 80,000 to $ 300,000 per unit. These factors will drive down the value of older condominiums, while the prices of luxury buildings will continue to soar.

“Capital holders who move here have never thought of older buildings. They’re buying newer structures and pre-builds, so I don’t see that dampening their appetites, ”said Bozovic, founder of Analytics Miami. “What this will do is further reduce sales of older structures and further divide the market.”

Before the Champlain Towers South tragedy, Surfside, with about 6,000 residents on half a square mile of an island off Miami, was one of South Florida’s most anonymous municipalities – albeit in January Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have rented a luxury condo in a new building two blocks from the collapse.

The city is known for its clean beaches and a 12-story limit on its buildings, and contrasts with neighboring Miami Beach and its world-famous nightlife, Bal Harbor with its upscale shopping and both with double buildings. and triples the height of the highest Surfside.

Mayor Charles Burkett said the city had experienced a “roller coaster” of emotions since the collapse. The demolition of the remaining part of the structure and Tropical Storm Elsa, which brought strong winds and heavy rains to the area, intensified what the community is going through.

“We’ve been faced with countless challenges, but the good news is that the resources we have are all aligned, all focused and pulling in the same direction,” he said.

Ryan Mermer moved to Surfside earlier this year from Palm Beach County, drawn by the calm, proximity to the city to Miami’s thriving business climate and large Orthodox Jewish community. On Saturdays, much of the city closes for the Sabbath, with the exception of chain stores. Surfside was home to Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Yiddish poet and short story writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

But Mermer also got a deal on a tiny apartment built half a century ago, just steps from the luxurious condo that former President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law moved into.

While the Mermer Building was built for the middle class, today’s construction caters to the New York, European and South American elite, drawn to lifestyle, weather and absence of state income tax.

“I pay $ 1375 [a month] … In front of the beach; Ivanka and Jared pay $ 38,000, ”said Mermer, a real estate agent who also works for Holocaust Heroes Worldwide, a support group for survivors of the Nazi death camps.

In the low-key Surfside shopping district one recent afternoon barber Aramis Armor and Freddy Elias, co-owner of a sewing and dry cleaning store, had no customers. The pandemic hit their businesses hard, both said, and the collapse and resulting street closures made it difficult for anyone to reach them.

Amor says that normally the business district is full of families – they can grab an ice cream, eat pizza, or drink coffee at the many local businesses that dot the downtown area.

“They are all very nice, the customers are very good,” said Armor. He blamed city officials for its lack of activity, saying they should never have let the collapsed building decompose like he did.

Elias, who has owned Surfside businesses for 25 years, hopes a low-interest federal loan promised by President Joe Biden’s administration to stores hit by the collapse will help him out until his customers return. Meanwhile, a partner would go to a customer’s home for a fitting rather than forcing the customer to fight traffic to get to the store.

“Since COVID and now this tragedy, it has been very, very bad for us,” Elias said. “We need help.”

The streets reopened this week.

Story of Terry Spencer and Dreida Frisaro. Associated Press editors Mike Schneider and Gisela Salomon, photographer Marta Lavandier and researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.


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