Harrah’s: Rio tower ruled safe

The concrete floor on the 19th floor of a Rio Hotel tower is safe and has not been compromised by holes drilled during controversial remodeling, according to word that Harrah’s Entertainment received from engineers Monday evening.

The engineering firm of Culp & Tanner telephoned executives the good word, said Jan Jones, Harrah’s senior vice president for communications and government relations. Culp & Tanner plans to deliver its written report today to the gaming company.

“Together with county inspectors, we identified eight rooms on the 19th floor of the tower where cables and/or rebar were exposed during the process of replacing tubs,” Jones said to explain the report’s focus. Harrah’s will give the report to county officials “as soon as it is available.”

The Rio’s 19th floor, shut down in the Ipanema tower, has high roller suites that were created by combining smaller standard suites as part of a remodeling project that took place from 2004-2006 without permits or safety inspections.

Jones said Harrah’s turned over to the county last week an earlier engineer’s report, which it had commissioned to study the structural integrity of two concrete-imbedded cables that were damaged during renovation in two other Ipanema guest rooms, located on lower floors. She said the county is independently verifying results of that first report.

“From the outset, we have committed that we would cooperate fully with the county, publicly disclose any verified findings, and take whatever corrective action is necessary,” Jones said by telephone Monday from the East Coast.

As part of a comprehensive review within Harrah’s Entertainment, the company recently “identified a room renovation project that was about to begin at Harrah’s Laughlin,” and made sure proper building permits were obtained, Jones added.

Asked if the gaming company has taken a hit in consumer perceptions since questionable remodeling at the Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas was revealed, Jones said, “We take customer service as of paramount importance. … Certainly having so many rooms off line is an impact to business, but we’re more concerned with proper permits and remediation.”

About 140 guest rooms at the Rio and more than 500 at Harrah’s Las Vegas are out of service.

“Certainly there were some unhappy customers” when hotel management shut the rooms for inspection and repairs, moving guests to other properties. “We offered … in some cases refunds, and in some cases opportunities to revisit,” Jones explained.

At both hotels under investigation, Clark County inspectors from the building division are working alongside corporate inspectors from Harrah’s as well as an independent team hired by Harrah’s to determine the extent of faulty or uninspected work, and then to prescribe and carry out corrective work, using approved plans, permits and inspections.

The Harrah’s inhouse team is using Penta Building as general contractor; the independent team is composed of personnel from the California office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm. That team, according to Jones, is looking at “the process, how this happened.”

Fred Frazzetta, the whistle-blower who alerted the Las Vegas Review-Journal in summer 2007 to the lack of permits and inspections for the Rio remodel, canceled a meeting set for Monday with representatives of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher because he wants an attorney to be present.

Frazzetta, an electrician, worked on the Rio remodel and then later attempted to prod Clark County Development Services into investigating the lack of permits and inspections. He filed a formal complaint with the county in summer 2006, but it hung in limbo for six months and then was closed. The newspaper researched and organized his allegations, then approached the county and Harrah’s Entertainment with the data in late September, which stirred the county to reopen Frazzetta’s complaint.

Jones said Harrah’s Entertainment is not using business interruption insurance to cover any of the costs of closing or remediating the guest rooms or other hotel spaces that have been affected.

“W’e’re holding ourselves accountable for our issues,” she said.

The company has declined to let Review-Journal photographers visit the investigation sites inside the Rio or Harrah’s Las Vegas, citing safety and logistical reasons. Jones said parties would be able to reconstruct the extent of faulty or unpermitted remodeling work by using written documentation that investigators are creating.

Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling said she would check whether county inspectors are using photos or video footage to visually document the extent of the formerly hidden work.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at jwhitely@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0268.

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