Dolphin Tower residents hope to return home in 2014

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SARASOTA - More than two years after structural damage forced people out of their bay front condo building, residents get hope that they'll get to move back in. Work to shore up the Dolphin Tower building can't begin soon enough for one woman, who calls her condo her "dream."

Doubts that the structural faults that caused a partial collapse of one floor could be repaired led some people to abandon their units.

Not Sophia Friedman.

“Under one roof, it means a family,” she says.

The clock that chimes the Beatles song "Yesterday" is the only thing she has hung on the wall in her temporary apartment in the Renaissance not far away. It could take 18 months before she can move back into her Dolphin Tower condo. And the 87-year-old seems to count the minutes.

“The dolphin tower, for me, it's an American dream come true,” she says in her thick Russian accent.

Sophia and her husband had fled Soviet Russia in 1976 and moved to the U.S. with little more than that American dream – no English, little money – and reached paradise when they moved into their bay front condo in 1998. It is where they lived when her husband died, and where the neighbors she calls her family rallied behind her.

And when asked why she wants to move back, her face screws up in what looks like momentary confusion before she exclaims, “What! My heart is there. My dreams are there. My past is there.”

So when speculators came, scooped up units for less than $30,000, and suggested demolishing the building to make money on the bay front land, Sophia stood up in an owners' meeting and confronted one of what she viewed as vultures. “'So when we were crying, and our hearts were bleeding, you were sitting with a calculator at home?,” she said to him. “'You bought the condo, you want to demolish everything? You don't care! You're an empty shell! You have no heart! We hate you! Get out of here!' The meeting **laughs** everybody just stopped,” she says now.

She calls the building itself a friend, and says if it ever must go, she wants to go with it.  “I said, 'if you decide to demolish the building, I will stay on the balcony and nobody will take me out. You will demolish (it) with me together.'"

But she says that engineers have assured her that she will get to move back home to her dream. Work should start next month.