|By Steve Green, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 17, 2012--Four years after Clark County building inspectors issued corrective-action and stop-work orders at the Harmon on the Las Vegas Strip, the hotel's owner is back in court seeking permission to demolish it.
After a four-month recess, testimony resumed Monday in Clark County District Court in a hearing on whether CityCenter can demolish the hotel prior to a trial planned for next year in a lawsuit over Harmon design and construction defects and unpaid Harmon construction invoices.
CityCenter, half owned and managed by casino resort giant MGM Resorts International, has made it clear the Harmon at some point will be demolished.
That means the issue at hand is whether CityCenter can proceed now with demolition or whether the 26-story hotel will remain standing to be used as evidence in the June 2013 trial over defects and some $186 million CityCenter has refused to pay certain contractors and subcontractors because of the defective work.
CityCenter says it has been ordered by Clark County to abate a public safety hazard posed by the Harmon, which some engineers feel could collapse in a strong earthquake -- a contention disputed by other engineers.
CityCenter insists the best way to deal with the hazard is to take down the tower rather than giving contractors a chance to repair and shore up the building.
CityCenter won an initial legal victory Monday when Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled on when an issue involving jurors can be litigated.
The issue is whether jurors in next year's trial might be influenced by a demolition of the Harmon. Contractors fear jurors would be biased against them if the $279 million structure is demolished, because jurors may feel there was a good reason it was taken down. They want to continue making that argument during the current hearing.
"Allowing CityCenter to implode the Harmon will irreparably taint the jury pool," George Ogilvie, attorney for general contractor Perini Building Co., told Gonzalez.
But Gonzalez said she won't consider that issue during the current hearing, which is focusing on whether adequate examination and testing of the Harmon have been conducted.
"At some point in time it (litigating the juror issue) may be appropriate," Gonzalez said. "The fact that there may be issues related to a later motion to change venue or issues related to a significant jury questionnaire related to media coverage (of a demolition) -- we'll address it at that time.."
The hearing on whether the demolition can proceed sooner rather than later is expected to include testimony picking up from March featuring dueling engineers and statisticians testifying about whether the Harmon is safe, can be repaired and has been adequately analyzed.
Gonzalez has set nine days of hearings on the demolition issue through July 27; it's unknown if attorneys will be able to wrap up their cases sooner.
Lawsuit records show that between July and September 2008, Clark County inspectors issued numerous notices of violation to CityCenter regarding the Harmon after it was discovered that in several instances reinforcing steel called rebar was either missing or improperly installed and wasn't properly tied together.
Some of these notices involved temporary suspensions of work and stop-work orders on parts of the building while engineers devised repairs.
In response, CityCenter initially reduced the height of what would have been a boutique hotel and condominium tower from 47 stories to 26 stories and continued construction.
But it later halted all work when additional problems were found, including overstressed link beams, problems with walls and the inability of the building to properly distribute forces created by an earthquake.
Perini insists the building can be fixed and blames many of the problems on CityCenter design errors. Perini claims CityCenter just wants to get rid of a building it can't use in the current economic environment.
Today, the building sits unfinished and unoccupied.
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