While search and rescue teams dig through the collapsed section of the Champlain Towers South condo building on Collins Avenue in Surfside, Fla., attention is being focused on the historic Canadian links to the area.
Generations of Canadians have vacationed in the communities of Surfside, Bal Harbour, Sunny Isles and many other locations along the Atlantic coast in and around Miami.
“I love all the Canadian Jews who are in the area, the part-timers,” said Jacob Solomon, the president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation in an interview. “I know that there are pockets of Miami-Dade country, and this is probably one of them, which are very popular for Canadians who are part-time residents in South Florida.”
Solomon visited Surfside after a section of the 12-storey building collapsed, including making a stop in a nearby community centre where relatives were waiting for word of their missing loved ones. While he did not have information about the four Canadians who Ottawa said are among the missing residents, Solomon said anyone in Canada who needs help can reach out to the Miami Jewish federation and he will connect them with the appropriate resources.
“We have a local hotline, 2-1-1, but they can reach Jewish Community Services or the federation or they can reach me by leaving a message with the federation. It’s 1-305-576-4000, and I’ll put them in touch with the right people,” Solomon said.
A Toronto beauty and lifestyle company, Gee Beauty, also has a branch at 9700 Collins Ave. in the Bal Harbour Shops mall, just north of the disaster zone. The manager, Natalie Gee, said Saturday that they do know someone who is unaccounted for.
“At this time we are just waiting for a miracle,” she wrote in a text message to The CJN.
The partially collapsed condo building at 8777 Collins Ave. was built in 1981 by a team of Canadian Jewish developers headed by Nathan Reiber, a lawyer. Reiber developed dozens of similar apartment complexes along Collins Avenue together with partners that included the late Nathan Goldlist, and Mendel Tenenbaum, both real estate moguls and Toronto Holocaust survivors.
Reiber was a Polish-born immigrant whose family came to Montreal in 1929, when he was two years old. He grew up in Edmonton, got a law degree, and practised law in Toronto.
In the late 1970s, Reiber relocated to Florida, according to the obituary his family published when he died there in 2014. It was in Florida that Reiber began a new career developing beachfront property in the Miami area.
Terrence Reiber, one of Reiber’s sons, is a Toronto real estate lawyer. Reached on Sunday, he declined an interview. “Sorry. Nothing to say, thank you,” he said. A daughter-in-law, Shirley Reiber, hung up on The CJN reporter.
Nathan Reiber and his partners made headlines in the Miami Herald in 1989 for delays and unsightly debris left on the ground when they appeared before the Town of Surfside about construction on three developments along Collins Avenue.
After a halt of eight years, commissioners with the Town of Surfside narrowly voted 3-2 in November 1989 to approve Reiber’s plans to resume construction of one of the projects, called the Centennial Towers, at 8833 Collins Ave. He and his partners had purchased the property for $4.1 million (USD) in 1980.
The latter was to go up next door to the Champlain Tower North, and adjacent to the partially collapsed south tower. Reiber is quoted at the time as promising to clean up the construction site’s discarded oil drums, lumber debris, and pools of water in the elevator shafts and pool excavation hole, according to the newspaper.
Commissioners also approved his request to build closer to the property line than Town of Surfside regulations normally allowed, but Reiber told them he still needed approval from the state Department of Natural Resources over his coastal construction site proposal, before proceeding further.
Two other Reiber group projects eventually would be completed: the Bal Colony at 9455 Collins Ave., built in 1991, and now called The Waves. The Richelieu Tower development at 8925 Collins Ave. was completed in 1995, now known as The Mirage. The original companies behind these projects are listed as inactive.
Donations are being accepted by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, which is currently providing religious counselling at the moment to relatives at the scene. Officials expect the need will be great, in the longer term.
“Our chaplaincy program, Mishkan Miami, was there, we had trauma counsellors from our Jewish Community Services,” Solomon said, referring to some of their efforts on the ground over the weekend. “We very much expect to be case-managing all of the people, frankly, who are interested in having us help them through this problem and beyond.
“This is not a short-term situation. this is a very long-term process for them to rebuild their lives.”