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Surfside land sale now official. What’s next for the oceanfront property where 98 died?

Aug. 3, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 3, 2022 at 9:09 p.m.

The land that housed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., will be sold to a billionaire developer from Dubai, Hussain Sajwani, of DAMAC Properties.  (Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)
The land that housed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., will be sold to a billionaire developer from Dubai, Hussain Sajwani, of DAMAC Properties. (Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)
By Jay Weaver Miami Herald Miami Herald

MIAMI – When a 12-story Surfside condominium tower tumbled down last year – killing 98 people in a calamity that made headlines worldwide – South Florida developers kept their distance, choosing not to make an offer for the tragically stained oceanfront property.

Instead, thousands of miles away, a billionaire Middle Eastern developer pledged to pay $120 million for the roughly two-acre site where the Champlain Towers South once stood overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

This past week, as the lone bidder, Dubai-based DAMAC Properties Inc. made the land purchase official. In a quiet closing, DAMAC took control of the valuable property 13 months after the building collapsed on June 24, 2021.

Another condo tower, with luxurious amenities, is expected to rise in its place. Exactly when is not yet clear.

“We marketed this property globally – there was interest from developers in Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” said Michael Fay, a principal of commercial real estate firm Avison Young, who was appointed to market the land as part of a class-action lawsuit. “DAMAC was so strong. We picked them because of the financial closure they brought to the deal.”

One of the stumbling blocks for potential bidders was a requirement to pay a $16 million deposit, sign a purchase agreement and show proof of funds in order to be considered. DAMAC’s brokers, Jeff Cohen and Vivian Dimond with Brown Harris Stevens in Miami, said the developer not only paid the initial $16 million deposit but added another $34 million deposit towards the total offer figure after completing a series of engineering surveys and testing at the site.

With the due diligence, title cleared and closing completed, the sale proceeds of the Champlain Towers South at 8777 Collins Ave. have been transferred to the receiver for the building’s condominium association, attorney Michael Goldberg, according to court records.

Goldberg will now use some of that money along with the condo association’s insurance coverage to pay $96 million to the 136 Champlain condo owners under a settlement agreement approved by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman in May. The settlement will be distributed on the basis of the value of each condo unit – floor level, square footage, number of rooms and type of view – according to an independent property appraiser.

The looming question now: What’s next for the precious property?

DAMAC has said it plans to develop the Champlain Towers South site into another condominium high-rise up to 12 stories– but in a contemporary design with ample luxury and amenities. The former condo tower, which was undergoing a 40-year review and major renovation at the time of its collapse, had been built in the early 1980s. In recent years, Surfside’s waterfront has exploded into one of the hottest real estate markets in South Florida, with new condos fetching multimillion-dollar prices.

The owner of DAMAC Properties, Hussain Sajwani, is a friend and business partner of former President Donald Trump. Sajwani and his firm have deep pockets and plenty of experience in the development game.

A DAMAC spokesman has previously said that Sajwani plans to build an ultra-luxury condo building. “We have always considered Miami as a natural fit, given its reputation for being a popular, luxurious destination,” the spokesman, Niall McLoughlin, said in an email.

Sajwani’s resume sparkles with successful projects – dozens of residential developments across the Middle East, partnerships with the fashion houses Versace and Fendi, and two Trump-branded golf courses in Dubai, one of them designed by Tiger Woods.

He has a reputation for bold marketing campaigns, like offering free Lamborghinis to potential buyers. And he has also grown close to Trump, attending the former president’s inauguration, pitching him on a $2 billion development deal, and becoming a member at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

At a New Year’s Eve gala at the club in 2016, Trump called Sajwani and his family “the most beautiful people.”

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