Subcontractors fight Harmon demolition plan

The Harmon at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011.

The Harmon - Oct. 2011

The Harmon at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Two subcontractors have joined the general contractor in fighting plans by MGM Resorts International to implode the unused Harmon Tower at CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip.

The CityCenter casino-resort complex, half owned and managed by MGM Resorts International, says the 26-story hotel structure is unsafe because of construction defects and needs to come down.

It’s seeking approval to implode the tower from Clark County and in a Clark County District Court lawsuit.

The lawsuit is over the defects and money CityCenter has refused to pay Perini and certain subcontractors for what it calls flawed work on the $279 million building.

The structure, where work was halted in early 2010, had been planned for 47 floors but was capped at 26 when the defects were discovered.

The general contractor, Perini Building Co., insists the structure is safe and the defects can be repaired. It’s been leading the charge against the implosion plan, charging MGM Resorts wants to get rid of the building not because of defects but because of its own design errors and because the Harmon is unneeded with the current glut of hotel rooms in the city.

And now two subcontractors have joined Perini in fighting the demolition plan.

Their attorneys filed briefs last week with District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who plans a hearing next month on the demolition proposal.

A team of five attorneys representing Pacific Coast Steel filed one of the briefs.

Pacific Coast Steel has plenty at stake in the litigation.

On the one hand, it’s accused of failing to properly construct “link beams” at the Harmon, allegedly resulting in a “substantial and dangerous reduction in the vertical load-bearing capabilities” of the building.

On the other hand, it has filed liens against the Harmon for $8.4 million and is complaining implosion of the building would destroy its collateral for those liens.

Pacific Coast Steel attorneys complained in their brief that destruction of the Harmon would give CityCenter an “insurmountable advantage” against Perini, Pacific Coast Steel and other subcontractors in an upcoming trial on the alleged defects.

"The physical absence of the Harmon caused by its demolition is enough to permanently prejudice Perini, Pacific Coast Steel and the other subcontractors and guarantee a verdict in CityCenter’s favor nearly a year and a half before the first juror is sworn in by the court,” their filing said.

“Demolition will create an unrebuttable presumption in favor of CityCenter on the two ultimate issues in the case — whether the Harmon was defectively constructed and whether the building can be repaired rather than demolished,” the Pacific Coast Steel filing said. "The jury’s decision on both of these issues will be effectively taken out of their hands if the building is allowed to be torn down.”

“If CityCenter’s motion is granted, and the Harmon is demolished, the parties will be arguing about the safety and integrity of a building that no longer exists,” Pacific Coast Steel attorneys wrote in their brief. “It will be impossible for a juror to reconcile this issue with the inherent presumption that there had to be something very seriously wrong with the building if it was demolished. A jury will undoubtedly believe that governmental and judicial authorization was needed for a total implosion.”

The Pacific Coast Steel filing also complained that despite assertions to the contrary by CityCenter, “there is no evidence that the Harmon is a public safety risk which must be abated.”

Also filing a brief opposing the demolition plan were four attorneys for Ceco Concrete Construction LLC, which has filed a lien against the Harmon for nearly $1.56 million.

That company complained that CityCenter’s actions don’t support its claim that the building is dangerous and should be imploded.

Ceco attorneys noted that after announcing plans to seek Clark County approval to implode the building on Aug. 15, “inflaming headlines around the world,” CityCenter didn’t ask the Nevada Supreme Court for an emergency order allowing it to abate the public safety risk. (The lawsuit was stayed at that time so the Supreme Court could decide a side issue).

“Instead, CityCenter sat silently for approximately four months, waiting for the stay to be lifted,” Ceco complained in its brief. “That is not the behavior of a public company that truly believes it possesses a building on the Las Vegas Strip that could collapse.”

Ceco’s attorneys said CityCenter’s engineer who predicted the Harmon could collapse in an earthquake has yet to provide documentation to Clark County and the county “seems to have more questions than answers” about whether to allow demolition to go forward.

“It is true as a general principle that owners can do what they want with their property,” Ceco’s filing said. “Of course, as any parent would tell a 5-year-old boy in a toy store, before you break it, you have to pay for it, and CityCenter is far from accomplishing that where the Harmon is concerned.”

CityCenter attorneys have not yet responded to these briefs.

But they’re likely to remind Gonzalez they’ve filed a list of more than 1,700 defects involving the Harmon’s reinforcing steel and that plenty of evidence about the defects has been and will be documented prior to the implosion.

They’ll likely note that Clark County has ordered CityCenter to abate the public safety risk posed by the Harmon, which CityCenter’s consulting engineer has concluded “is likely to collapse in a code-level earthquake.”

“CityCenter proposed to demolish the Harmon as the fastest, surest and most cost-efficient means of abating the public safety risk,” the company’s attorney said in a court filing earlier this month.

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  1. In my opinion, Clark County Development Services is just as, if not more culpable than the GC doing the construction. I worked in the development of large tracts of vacant land back in the early 2000s here in the valley, and prior to that was involved in the inspection of high rise construction in downtown Seattle through the boom of the 80s.

    The structural inspectors that looked at the construction were both private and from the County. My experience with the quality of the inspectors, from the Switch Beach Club to the Deer Springs Town Center retail development, is that they were marginally equipped at best to perform the oversight they were called upon to do. There were times we could not even get the inspector out of his vehicle, and have seen more than my fair share of drive-by inspections. Many parties to blame in this, Perini for letting SW Steel get away with marginal work (then RFPing the structural engineer for constructablility changes), which in turn go the County for approval before being implemented.

    The images that were presented in the report on the county and the City Center project that was issued in (08 I think), was really shoddy construction. Exposed reinforcing steel, lack of concrete cover on structural members (NO WAY the county inspector would have missed that one, unless his butt was anchored to his truck seat instead of walking the project). As the agency in charge, Clark County should be #2 on the who messed up list right behind the General Contractor. They did not build the building as designed, and therefore are ultimately responsible. SW Steel being a subcontractor to Perini is just as culpable.

  2. I have no connection to this project, but I have over 30 years of structural engineering experience in the design and construction of commercial buildings like this one. I agree with most of the comments expressed by Xtlman (Mark Dunton) but add the following:

    The primary culprit appears to be Perini (including responsible subcontractors). Regardless of the poor structural inspections performed, Perini is obligated to construct the building as required by the contract documents (i.e, the design drawings and specifications). Unfortunately, while Clark County Development Services may have performed no, or only cursory, structural inspections, they have a right to rely on the legally required structural inspections provided by the private inspectors. That's why they're required by the Building Code. No where I know of, does any governing jurisdiction have the resources to perform all structural inspections for all projects. However, it does appear that Clark County did not perform any or sufficient spot checks on this major project to validate the work of the private inspectors.

    More importantly, I have to also cite the responsible structural design engineer for not validating the work of the private inspectors hired to perform the structural inspections. The structural engineer should have personally provided sufficient structural inspections, especially early in the project, to validate the independent work of the hired inspectors. In fact, he should have been diligent about verifying the qualifications of the actual inspectors at the beginning of the job (it now appears they were very unqualified). The structural engineer might claim that he wasn't retained by the Owner (MGM) or Architect with sufficient fee to provide such construction inspection, but that is no excuse. He is licensed to protect the public safety as his primary duty, and he is obliged to stand firm with his client that he be able to provide sufficient personal inspection during construction. Spineless engineers offend me and are a detriment to the profession. Again, none of this relieves Perini of any of their obligation to construct the building properly.