CityCenter seeks to collect evidence at Harmon before implosion

The Harmon Hotel at CityCenter sits empty and unfinished with the Veer Towers seen in the background Friday, July 29, 2011.

Attorneys for the CityCenter resort complex on the Las Vegas Strip asked a judge Wednesday to approve additional testing of the flawed Harmon Hotel — work that would precede the planned implosion of the building.

The tests — including videotaped and photographed measurements, examinations and so-called destructive testing — are needed to collect evidence for use in the massive lawsuit over unpaid bills for construction of the $279 million Harmon, and counterclaims that construction defects there have left the building unusable and in danger of collapsing in an earthquake.

The destructive testing has involved jackhammering away of concrete to inspect the building’s underlying support structure. Reports filed in court show engineers identifying problems generally involving improperly installed steel reinforcing bars.

The Harmon was planned as a 47-floor tower but instead was capped at 26 floors. CityCenter says concerns over the construction defects drove the decision to reduce the building’s planned height.

That decision came in 2009, when CityCenter thought the building could be completed and opened. CityCenter general contractor Perini Building Co. claims market conditions — as opposed to defects — led CityCenter not to build the top 21 floors.

After it became clear the project was headed to litigation, work on the Harmon was halted in early 2010, just after MGM Resorts International started opening the rest of its half-owned $8.5 billion CityCenter development. The Harmon continues to sit unused and empty.

Perini insists the building can be repaired and disputes an engineer’s conclusion it would collapse in an earthquake.

But the fate of the Harmon is not up to Perini, CityCenter attorneys said in their request for testing filed in Clark County District Court.

“The Clark County Building Division has ordered CityCenter — as the owner of the Harmon — to propose a plan of action to abate the risk that the building will collapse in a code-level earthquake,” CityCenter’s court filing said. “The fact that Perini disputes that the building would collapse (especially considering that Perini has a litigation incentive to dispute that conclusion) is irrelevant.

“As the owner of the building, CityCenter must do what is necessary to abate the safety risk.”

A Nov. 30 hearing is planned on CityCenter’s request to continue destructive testing of the building and establishment of a protocol for preservation of evidence.

Court-approved testing had been conducted through November 2010, but was stopped at that time when the entire CityCenter construction litigation case was put on hold so the Nevada Supreme Court could decide if certain CityCenter legal professionals could continue to work on the case.

Now that the Supreme Court has decided that issue in favor of the CityCenter attorneys,the case is active again and the parties have resumed filing briefs with Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

Perini is already fighting efforts by CityCenter to implode the Harmon. In its most recent court filing, the company submitted a report from its engineer insisting the building can be repaired.

Perini has blamed problems at the Harmon on MGM Resorts design errors and has charged MGM Resorts wants to fell the building because it has no use for it during the recession that has left Las Vegas hotel-casino operators struggling to fill their hotel rooms.

CityCenter attorneys disputed such assertions in Wednesday’s court filing.

“Perini would have the world believe that CityCenter is willing to spend over $30 million of its own money to demolish a perfectly good building so that it can increase the damages that it may recover in this litigation,” the filing said. “CityCenter hopes that the absurdity of this argument (which is itself a litigation tactic) is obvious. In any event, Perini’s opinion regarding the scope of the defects and the proper method of (risk) abatement is irrelevant to this motion.”

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  1. As the son of a builder and someone who has been in construction for 28 years, it is of my opinion that the engineer who signed off on the plans is the one who is ultimately responsible for this mess.

  2. "The Clark County Building Division has ordered CityCenter -- as the owner of the Harmon -- to propose a plan of action to abate the risk that the building will collapse in a code-level earthquake,"

    "As the owner of the building, CityCenter must do what is necessary to abate the safety risk."

    Now for the reality check. Clark County officials will order, do or say whatever MGM's executives and lawyers privately tell them to say.

    I do not condone negligence or willful misconduct on the part of the rebar subcontractor, Perini, the independent inspection company hired by MGM or the independent inspection company hired by the County.

    But let's identify reality. The chance of a "Code Level Earthquake" is Once (1) in 32,000 years. But if this matter goes to trial before a jury, MGM will have the benefit of saying to the jury, gee we were heartbroken to see this beautiful building demolished, but Clark County officials made us do it. Then it will be up to a jury to decide who is full of b.s. about "risk", the County, MGM or Perini.

    My take on the subject: MGM better pray for a settlement because the biggest, richest company in town is naturally not going to be real popular with jurors, because anyone remotely connected to MGM will be excluded from the jury.

    My prediction in that scenario: MGM will probably win a money judgment against Perini, but the jury will not award 100 Cents on the Dollar.

  3. They'd best make darned sure they take down that building on the first try. It'll be really embarrassing if they've said the building is unstable yet it does not come down easily. A failed demolition would prove to the critics the building was safe all along.

  4. Sweet, blow her up!

    I do think thought that when this is all said and done, I suspect the Insurance Companies will settle this and the Tower will be remain intact. If this doesn't occur then I believe that something funny is going on with this claim and other issues that aren't being disclosed in the primary reason for what could occur.