MGM Resorts says it will demolish Harmon Tower

MGM Resorts International says there’s only one way out for the flawed 27-story Harmon Tower: explosives.

On Monday, the casino operator told Clark County officials that the structurally troubled Harmon Tower cannot be fixed and submitted a plan to implode the unfinished luxury hotel and condominium tower, which was to anchor the north end of the $8.5 billion CityCenter development.

MGM Resorts was responding to a directive from the Clark County Building Department, which sought a solution to public safety concerns surrounding the Harmon. Last month, a structural engineering firm said the building could collapse in a major earthquake.

MGM Resorts said it consulted "experts" who recommended demolishing the Strip building as the "fastest and safest" solution. The tower, across from The Cosmopolitan and next to CityCenter’s Crystals retail mall, would be imploded.

In a letter to Clark County Building Official Ron Lynn, CityCenter Senior Vice President William Ham said the developers "decided that to abate the potential for structural collapse in case of a code level earthquake, CityCenter will demolish the Harmon Building."

Perini Building Co., CityCenter’s general contractor, maintains it can fix the Harmon.

"Perini agrees that the fastest way to end the dispute over responsibility to repair MGM’s design errors would be to blow up the building and destroy the evidence," the company said in an email. "However, that would be far from the end of the dispute. MGM is seeking to implode the building to hide the fact that the Harmon is not a threat to public safety and to avoid having the repairs made that Perini and its third-party structural engineers have offered to do." 

Alteration, destruction prohibited

Construction defect issues surrounding the Harmon have the building’s immediate future held up in a Clark County District Court lawsuit between Perini and MGM Resorts, which is the operator and 50 percent owner of CityCenter.

MGM Resorts said if the county approves demolition, CityCenter will seek District Court approval. The court has prohibited alteration or destruction of the building until resolution of the lawsuit between CityCenter and Perini, now on hold pending a Nevada Supreme Court ruling on technicalities.

According to a plan of action submitted by LVI Environmental Services of Nevada, which was hired by CityCenter to demolish the Harmon, it would take six months to prepare and implode the tower structure and its podium, and four months for debris removal.

LVI said nearby businesses and pedestrian bridges on the Strip and Harmon Avenue would be protected by screens and scaffolding. The same team has imploded several shuttered Strip resorts, including the Sands, Stardust, Desert Inn, Aladdin and El Rancho.

MGM assured implosion would be safe

In a statement, MGM Resorts Vice President of Public Affairs Gordon Absher said the company was assured that a properly executed implosion "will not pose health or safety problems for residents, visitors and adjacent businesses."

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said the Building Department officials had received the communications from MGM Resorts, but declined comment on the Harmon matter Monday.

Because the building is owned by CityCenter, the Clark County Commission would not have to approve the implosion. The Building Department would have to sign off on the plan and permits would be needed from several Clark County and state agencies, including the Clark County Fire Department, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Nevada Highway Patrol and Clark County Air Quality Control Board.

Perini on Monday reiterated a month-old statement that it is "willing and able" to complete the Harmon. The company said it has met with Clark County commissioners to discuss the tower, but has not met with building officials.

In July, Southern California-based structural engineering firm Weidlinger Associates said that Harmon could collapse in a major earthquake and that the building had "pervasive and varied" construction defects.

The firm said it would take 12 to 14 months to determine whether the Harmon could be repaired.

MGM hired Weidlinger to evaluate the Harmon after a county consultant, William P. Moore Structural Engineers, concluded the building "suffered from certain vulnerabilities."

MGM Resorts said Monday its experts say it would take two to three years to complete repairs, if repairs are even possible.

"CityCenter consulted with experts about the fastest and safest way to resolve public safety concerns created by the structural defect issues at the Harmon” Absher said. "Based on their expert advice, CityCenter is recommending that the structure be demolished by implosion."

Construction issues first surfaced in 2008, when building inspectors found structural work on the planned 47-story building did not match plans submitted to the county. The construction issues involved improperly placed steel reinforcing bar, commonly known as rebar.

In January 2009, MGM Resorts scrapped 200 condos planned for upper floors and capped the tower at 27 stories. CityCenter opened in December 2009. The Harmon remains a blue-glass facade on an essentially empty shell.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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