Judge OKs demolition of half-built CityCenter hotel tower

A District Court judge on Friday granted operators of CityCenter permission to demolish the unfinished Harmon tower despite a pending construction defect lawsuit with the project’s general contractor over who was at fault for the flawed building.

District Judge Elizabeth Gonzelez ruled from the bench after a Friday morning hearing on the request after CityCenter officials presented evidence from a fourth phase of testing on the tower, which showed the structure could collapse in a major earthquake.

In a statement, MGM Resorts International, which owns 50 percent of CityCenter and operates the development, said it might take up to a year to complete the Harmon demolition.

According to documents filed with the court, the testing showed “widespread, diverse structural defects throughout the Harmon tower.”

Chukwuma Ekwueme, the Southern California-based structural engineering expert for CityCenter, said more than 7,000 defects were observed during the fourth testing phase.

Ekwueme said 100 percent of the elements tested contained at least one defect that required repair. Almost all elements contained multiple diverse defects.

“These construction defects reduce the capacity of the structural elements in the Harmon tower and result in a building with significantly inferior structural performance when compared to the expected performance of the building if it was constructed in accordance with the contract documents,” Ekwueme wrote.

MGM Resorts said work would resume with demolition experts “to determine the best method of safely removing the building,” which is at the front of the CityCenter development along the Strip across from The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“We will also work closely with county officials to submit plans and obtain necessary permits,” MGM Resorts said in a statement.

MGM Resorts and CityCenter partner Dubai World are embroiled in a legal dispute with Tutor Perini Building Co. over responsibility for $400 million in damage claims associated with the Harmon. After several delays, the trial is set to begin in February.

Officials from Tutor Perini could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The Harmon was one of five hotel and residential high-rise buildings within the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex, which opened in 2009. The tower was designed to be 48 stories and included both luxury hotel rooms and residential condominiums.

In 2008, the discovery of construction defects caused building of the tower to be halted at 26 stories, and the condominiums were canceled. Later that year, MGM Resorts, which was overseeing development of CityCenter, halted construction of the Harmon.

The outside of the building, which is essentially a hollow shell, was finished, and the Harmon became a giant billboard for advertising CityCenter attractions.

Tutor Perini had contended that the building was fundamentally safe and could be repaired to meet all building code standards. The company estimated that it would cost $21 million to fix all the problems.

In April, however, structural experts hired by Tutor Perini told the Clark County Building Department the destructive testing on the Harmon, including concrete removal, made the building unrepairable and unsafe to the public.

“Although Perini’s experts and CityCenter’s experts disagree as to the reasons why the Harmon is at risk for a partial or total collapse in an earthquake, it is undisputed now that the experts for both CityCenter and Perini agree that the Harmon poses a significant life-safety hazard,” attorneys for CityCenter wrote in a court filing.

Tutor Perini has said the architects and engineers under CityCenter’s control were responsible for the problems with the tower.

CityCenter officials, however, said the building was a complete loss because of shoddy workmanship and want Tutor Perini to cover the damages.

MGM Resorts said it has not developed any plans “at this time” for what it would do with the empty Harmon location.

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

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