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Gaming Guru

Tim O'Reiley

Consultant for contractor says testing damaged Harmon Hotel beyond repair

5 June 2013

LAS VEGAS -- The safety of the Harmon Hotel tower at CityCenter arose again as a concern when a consultant hired by Tutor Perini Building Corp. reversed its position and now believes that recent testing damaged the never-finished building beyond repair.

At the end of technical legal arguments on Tuesday concerning the massive CityCenter construction defects case, CityCenter attorney Mark Ferrario told the Nevada Supreme Court, “Now there is no dispute among experts that something needs to be done with that building.”

CityCenter, managed and half-owned by MGM Resorts International, has been pushing for more than a year to demolish the 26-story shell.

Tutor Perini has always contended that the building was fundamentally safe and could be repaired to meet all building code standards.

“We disagree” with Ferrario’s safety statement, Tutor Perini attorney George Ogilvie III said after the hearing. He did not elaborate.

In an April 25 letter to Clark County director of development services Ron Lynn, the engineering firm John A. Martin & Associates said that CityCenter’s destructive testing in the past two months to gather evidence for the case had caused more damage than anticipated. Even before the testing, which entails knocking concrete off structural elements to reveal the condition of the steel inside, Martin warned about potential harm to the Harmon Hotel.

In particular, the letter signed by Martin President John A. Martin Jr. and Nevada division President Steve Schiller urged shoring up two particular walls on the lower levels “as soon as possible to minimize the possibility of partial or total collapse due to a failure ... in the event of an earthquake.”

In Clark County District Court hearings last year, Schiller testified that the building would survive an earthquake with some damage and proposed a temporary fix to reinforce certain vulnerable spots. CityCenter’s experts, by contrast, predicted that the Harmon would collapse if hit by a serious temblor.

The Martin letter, copied to all seven county commissioners, contended that chipping away concrete behind reinforcing steel went well beyond what they had expected. In addition, the work damaged the steel itself while the vibration from heavy equipment caused further weakening.

Tutor Perini has previously estimated that it would cost $21 million to fix all the problems with the Harmon but laid the blame for most of them on architects and engineers under CityCenter’s control. CityCenter, by contrast, has labeled the building a complete loss because of shoddy workmanship and wants about $300 million in damages from Tutor Perini .

The safety issue came in CityCenter’s appeal of a ruling last year by Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez that denied it the use of extrapolation when requesting monetary damage. Extrapolation, much like political polling, uses a sample to predict the outcome of a whole; without extrapolation, CityCenter could ask a jury for an award that covers only the sites tested and not the entire building.

George Ogilvie had argued that extrapolation order now in effect was now moot because it applied to earlier destructive testing. The latest round would not be subject to that, he said.

But because extrapolation tied into the need to preserve the Harmon as evidence, the safety issue then comes into play, Ferrario said.

Previously, CityCenter had tested 397 structural elements out of 1,469. The latest testing in excess of 400 more elements.