Engineering company finds Harmon tower construction defects ‘pervasive’

The unfinished Harmon tower at CityCenter is virtually unrepairable and could collapse in a “code-level” earthquake, according to a structural engineer hired by MGM Resorts International who examined the 27-story building.

In the report, members of Weidlinger Associates of Marina Del Rey, Calif., said they ran several tests on the building and found missing or misplaced reinforcing steel in columns, beams, shear walls and transfer walls throughout the tower below the 21st floor.

“The construction defects in the tower observed to date are so pervasive and varied in character that it is not possible to quickly implement a temporary or permanent repair to remediate the defects, or even determine whether such repairs can be performed,” Chuckwuma Ekwueme, an associate principal with Weidlinger told CityCenter Vice President of Facility Operations William Ham in a letter dated Monday.

A “code-level earthquake” is based on the probability of an earthquake strong enough to damage structures occurring once every 500 years. The rating varies by region, depending on several factors including fault lines and soil conditions.

In the letter, Ekwueme said that if a code-level earthquake were to take place, “it is likely that critical structural members in the tower will fail and become incapable of supporting gravity loads, leading to a partial or complete collapse of the tower.”

The Harmon, part of the $8.5 billion CityCenter, was originally designed by the firm of famed British architect Lord Norman Foster as a 47-story hotel and condominium tower.

In 2008, building inspectors found structural work on the Harmon did not match plans submitted to Clark County. The construction issues involved improperly placed steel reinforcing bar, commonly known as rebar.

In January 2009, MGM Resorts scrapped the planned 200 condominium units for the upper floors and stopped the tower at 27 stories, focusing on the Harmon having just 400 hotel rooms. Company officials said at the time they would delay finishing the tower and wait until 2010 to decide what to do next.

CityCenter, which includes the Aria hotel-casino, the nongaming Vdara and Mandarin Oriental hotels, the all-residential Veer Towers, and the Crystals retail, dining and entertainment mall, opened in December 2009.

The Harmon’s construction defect issues became the focal point of a lawsuit between MGM Resorts and Perini Building Co. that was filed last year in Clark County District Court. Clark County Building officials halted any construction to be done to the Harmon.

In April, the building division asked CityCenter, which is jointly owned by MGM Resorts and Dubai World, to analyze the Harmon tower and podium after its own consultant, Walter P. Moore Structural Engineers, concluded “the structure suffered from certain vulnerabilities.”

In a letter to Ham, Clark County Building Official Ron Lynn said the Harmon needed to be further analyzed, “to minimize further risks to life safety, Las Vegas Boulevard, and adjacent habitable structures.”

Members of Weidlinger said it would take at least “12 to 14 months” to conduct a study that would determine “how to remediate the tower or whether repairs are possible, even in its current unoccupied condition.”

MGM Resorts spokesman Gordon Absher said CityCenter officials forwarded the report by Weidlinger to Clark County and will await direction from the county as to what the next steps are with the Harmon.

“The analysis from the engineering consultant confirms the pervasiveness and severity of the defective construction work at Harmon,” Absher said. “We’ve turned over the information to the county and are awaiting direction as to the next steps.”

In an emailed statement, Lynn said he directed that the report be prepared after previous concerns about the building were raised.

“I just received the report and will take time to review and analyze its contents before deciding upon a course of action,” Lynn said.

Attempts to reach Perini for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

The litigation between CityCenter and Perini is on hold pending the outcome of a hearing that was held May 3 in front of the Nevada Supreme Court concerning technicalities with the case. A district judge stayed the lawsuit last year.

Meanwhile, MGM Resorts officials said the company settled claims with all but seven of the 220 first-tier subcontractors that hadn’t been paid once Perini and CityCenter became involved in the legal skirmish.

MGM Resorts took over settling payment matters with the subcontractors, paying $3.95 billion for work on CityCenter. MGM Resorts officials have said they paid 99 percent of what had been billed by subcontractors.

Of the seven subcontractors that haven’t been paid, two are owned by Perini, three are directly involved in the Harmon litigation and two have litigation ongoing with Perini.

The Harmon was to be run as a nongaming hotel by The Light Group, a restaurant and nightclub operator. The Harmon would also feature MR CHOW, a branch of the popular Los Angeles restaurant owned by Michael Chow.

But with the building the focus of litigation, construction was halted on the interior. The outside of the building is blue glass which surrounds what is essentially an empty shell.

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

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