Bad Hand

Bad Hand

The Harmon Building.
Donald Priola / Flickr

Norman Foster’s mottled blue tube tower, part of Las Vegas’ $9 billion star-studded CityCenter project developed by MGM Resorts International and Dubai World, will never join the ranks of glittering hot-spots on the Strip. Citing the potential for structural collapse, the Harmon hotel is now slated for demolition pending the settlement of a lawsuit claiming design flaws.

Kevin Harber / Flickr

The Harmon was to anchor a prominent corner, adjacent to The Crystals, a massive 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment mall by Daniel Libeskind and Rockwell Group. Following structural problems with rebar installation on floors six through 20 and a resulting lawsuit, the Harmon Building was first cut in half—from 49 to 27 floors—and now owner MGM has submitted an engineer’s report that finds the building could fail in a strong earthquake.

After discovering deficient steel reinforcing in early 2009, MGM left the foreshortened tower an unfinished shell but is now moving to implode the structure citing safety concerns. Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs at MGM, said the company had submitted an engineering recommendation and demolition action plan to Clark County, Nevada detailing the structural shortcomings of the Harmon. “The city asked us to respond to the engineer’s report to determine the best way forward,” said Feldman. “We decided the best move is to take the building down.” Feldman noted that this engineer’s recommendation is not a permit request.

A demolition plan prepared by LVI Environmental Services called for approximately six months of site preparation followed by four to six months of cleanup and reclamation after the implosion. First, the Harmon’s low-rise podium will be mostly razed to physically separate the structure from the Crystals. According to LVI, “Existing structure elements and infrastructure specified to remain…will be strategically used to act as structural barriers against the effects of the planned implosion.”

Before a permit can be sought, MGM must first resolve a court-ordered stay of demolition that is part of a lawsuit with the building’s general contractor Perini Building Company, who allege that the structural problems were caused by design flaws. Perini claims that MGM owes the company and its subcontractors over $200 million in payments for work at CityCenter. When contacted, the office of Foster + Partners said they were unable to comment on the Harmon Building’s design.

“The lawsuit is about [financial] damages,” Feldman said. “Demolition can go forward while the lawsuit is pending.” That’s if MGM can convince a judge to lift the stay put in place since the Harmon is essentially a piece of evidence in the lawsuit. Still to be determined, Feldman said, is what went wrong during construction. “That’s at the heart of the lawsuit. The steel is not installed to code, that much is clear.”

Perini maintains that the Harmon is structurally sound and construction errors can be fixed. Citing an independent report commissioned by Clark County, Perini responded to MGM’s planned demolition in a statement, “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.” The company said it believes MGM seeks to tear down the building “to avoid adding the Harmon as additional glut to its other vacant properties in CityCenter.”

MGM has no plans for the site once the Harmon Building is removed, and the vision of another luxury hotel on the Strip today remains only a desert mirage.