|By Steve Green, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 13, 2012--A hearing is under way on CityCenter's request that it be allowed to demolish the never-occupied, $279 million Harmon hotel building on the Las Vegas Strip because of construction defects and safety concerns.
MGM Resorts International, half-owner and manager of the CityCenter casino-resort complex, is asking Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez for permission to implode the 26-story structure, mainly because of more than 1,700 defects with the building it claims to have discovered.
It's unknown when Gonzalez will rule on the request; even if she approves the implosion plan, it would take several more months for demolition plans to gain government approvals, and her ruling may be appealed.
General contractor Perini Building Co. and subcontractors are fighting the request, saying the Harmon can be repaired.
Perini and the subcontractors claim CityCenter is just trying to get rid of a building it can't use because of the economic slowdown and that its implosion would destroy evidence while tainting any future trial over alleged defects as jurors would assume the newly built building came down for good reason.
In Monday's Day One of what are expected to be four days of hearings this week, a Los Angeles-area structural engineer hired by CityCenter testified about concerns the Harmon could be felled by an earthquake or may collapse in a fire because of the defects.
With CityCenter attorneys showing Gonzalez dozens of photos of exposed internal structural elements and engineering drawings of the building -- just a fraction of the 10,000 photos and 1,000 pages of notes collected as evidence -- engineer Chukwuma Ekwueme said inspections found the Harmon riddled with problems.
They included missing structural steel that is supposed to be embedded in concrete, or steel that was incorrectly installed or wasn't properly connected with other steel components.
In many cases, the steel was improperly installed too close to the edges of structural components, meaning there is not enough insulation in the form of concrete to prevent the steel from melting in a fire, he said.
"With this insufficient coverage, the building becomes more vulnerable to failure in a fire," he said.
In some instances on multiple floors, he said, contractors failed to connect key walls and beams, leaving these structural elements intact now only because of friction between them.
"Some floors in the elevator lobby areas are extremely dangerous,'' he said.
Ekwueme is scheduled to resume testifying today. At some point he'll be cross-examined by Perini attorneys and they're expected to produce their own engineers who will blame CityCenter for design problems at CityCenter and insist the Harmon can be repaired.
CityCenter has argued that in seeking to implode the building, it's complying with a July directive from Clark County to abate the public safety hazard presented by a building that could come down in an earthquake.
CityCenter has said this solution is preferable to waiting for the results of more engineering studies on whether -- and how -- the unfinished building can be repaired and completed and at what cost.
Construction was halted on the Harmon in 2010 and litigation soon erupted between Perini and CityCenter over Perini's charges it and its contractors were owed $491 million at the time for work on the building -- and counterclaims by CityCenter that Perini had failed to deliver a building it could use, marring the otherwise successful completion of the $8.5 billion CityCenter project.
When CityCenter was designed, the Harmon was planned as a 47-story structure.
It was capped at 26 stories in 2008 when the defects were discovered and work continued on the structure until MGM Resorts decided in 2010 to stop work because of additional problems that had been discovered.
Perini, a unit of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Calif., said in a regulatory filing March 2 that after CityCenter paid several contractors, it and its subcontractors were still owed $192 million for work on CityCenter as of Dec. 31 -- an amount CityCenter disputes given the problems at the Harmon.
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