Waterfront woes known in 2004

Waterfront woes known in 2004

April 10th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

THE PLAYERS

Plaintiffs

• Chattanooga

• Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corp.

Defendants

• River City Co.

• Hargreaves Associates

• Continental Construction Co.

Subcontractors

• Nabco Electric Co.

• Masonry Specialists Corp.

• Valley Crest Development Corp.

• Hobbs Architectural Fountains

• Moffatt & Nichol Engineers

• Stein Construction

• T.U. Parks Construction


DREAM TO NIGHTMARE

• June 2003: Construction of the $120 million 21st Century Waterfront begins.

• October 2004: Hargreaves Associates notices "walls were moving" and alerts River City Co.

• January-September 2005: Hargreaves Associates writes memos to River City Co. regarding 13 problems, including moving and cracked walls at The Passage and settlement issues along the waterfront.

• May 2005: 21st Century Waterfront opens; deputy Public Works administrator Lee Norris sees problems and alerts city inspectors and River City Co.

• July 2007: Don Fowlkes, the city's chief electrical inspector, inspects waterfront and finds 13 problems with the electrical system.

• April 2008: The Passage officially closes because of safety problems.

• April 2010: The Passage reopens after 20 months and $1.5 million in repairs; more problems found along the concrete edge of the 21st Century Waterfront.

Source: Hamilton County court records, Chattanooga Times Free Press archives

Chattanooga officials knew as early as October 2004 of problems at the 21st Century Waterfront, court records show, rather than learning about them in 2007 as the city claims.

And city officials passed on a $108,000 fix offered by the architect, Hargreaves Associates, in 2005, court records show.

The city since has spent $1.5 million to fix the Passage and expects to spend another $1 million to repair concrete problems at the waterfront.

"The city was inherently involved," said Dan Kral, former project manager for the 21st Century Waterfront project and now a construction manager for Stein Construction. "Not only did they know everything. They rejected proposals to fix it."

The documents are contained in a welter of lawsuits and countersuits over the concrete and wiring problems at the 21st Century Waterfront. The $120 million project, heart of the city's downtown redevelopment effort, saw the rebuilding of Ross's Landing and construction of the Passage, a water feature alongside the Tennessee Aquarium.

The city has no records of code inspections or reports of any oversight during construction from 2003 to 2005, though participants say it's standard procedure to inspect and sign off on each phase of a project.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press asked to review all records of inspections and tests on the project under the state's Open Records Act.

The city had only two documents - a letter from Chattanooga's chief electrical inspector, Don Fowlkes, in 2007, and a recent study on the hard concrete edge of the waterfront.

Public Works Administrator Steve Leach said Friday the city lacked documents because city code inspectors were not allowed to inspect the 21st Century Waterfront during or after construction.

"They were not able to inspect," Leach said. "It was supposed to be someone else."

He could not say who gave the directive for the inspectors not to do their jobs.

"I don't have any understanding on why that was done," he said.

The lone inspection report, from 2007, showed a slew of dangerous electrical problems at the Passage. In 2009, Chattanooga sued the architect, contractor and project overseer to pay for repairs. The city claimed the 2007 inspection was the first time it learned of problems.

A Circuit Court judge threw the case out two months ago, saying the city first discovered problems in 2005 and the statute of limitations had expired.

City officials declined comment for this report, as did the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corp.,which oversaw the project.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said last week the city is preparing to appeal the decision.

"I don't care to comment on it other than what we've filed," McMahan said.

Court records

Construction on the $120 million 21st Century Waterfront began in 2003 under the administration of then-Mayor Bob Corker. The completed waterfront opened in May 2005, shortly after Mayor Ron Littlefield took office.

According to court documents, the River City Co., a nonprofit downtown development firm, was in charge of the day-to-day construction operations at the site. The Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corp., comprising Chattanooga's mayor, city finance officials and the City Council chairman, oversaw River City Co. Hargreaves Associates designed the project and Continental Construction Co. was the contractor.

Kral and others, including a spokesman for Corker, said CDRC members received weekly updates during the work.

Court documents show the first alarm sounded Oct. 28, 2004, when Hargreaves architects noticed the Passage's "walls were moving."

Between January 2005 and September 2005, Hargreaves Associates wrote memo after memo to River City Co. and Kral about the problems, records show.

Kral, along with former River City Executive Director Paul Brock and current Executive Director Kim White, said CDRC members should have received copies of those memos.

Kral said CDRC members, the contractor and architects met frequently throughout 2005 to discuss the problems and how to fix them.

Hargreaves attorney Marc Harwell wrote in court documents that construction companies did not follow the architect's original designs.

"The failure of the owner [the city and River City] to meet its responsibilities with respect to oversight and management allowed for the project to be constructed contrary to design," Harwell wrote.

But the city maintains in court filings that Hargreaves was at fault by "failing to properly evaluate the contractor's work."

The court record also shows at least one city employee was alarmed by problems at the Passage.

Deputy Public Works Administrator Lee Norris noticed problems with the walls at the waterfront in May 2005 and wrote an email to assistant city engineer Naveed Minhas and Kral.

"Who is responsible for correcting construction defects?" Norris wrote.

Minhas wrote back that the CDRC was the "eyes and ears" of the project. Kral wrote back the problems were being addressed.

Hargreaves proposed a $108,000 fix in 2005 for the Passage, court documents say. Specific details were not available last week.

But Kral said the CDRC, made up of Mayor Ron Littlefield, Chief of Staff Dan Johnson, Chief Financial Officer Daisy Madison and the City Council chairman, did not like the proposal.

"That solution was outright rejected," Kral said. "The solutions were always on the table."

City officials declined to comment last week.

Alaric Henry, attorney for River City Co., and Harwell said they were hesitant to comment on the case while the appeal continues.

No inspections

The city has no records showing inspections of the 21st Century Waterfront until Fowlkes, on the direction of Leach, went there in July 2007.

He found 13 electrical problems, including wiring not designed to be in or near water under the water of the Passage, Fowlkes wrote in a letter to Norris.

"The above wiring condition is one of the most potentially dangerous that I've seen of this type in years," Fowlkes wrote.

But Kral said he saw Fowlkes show up twice in 2004 and 2005 and say there were problems with the electrical wiring.

"He knew about that entire electrical system," Kral said.

Almost a year later the city closed the passage and began repairs.

River City officials said the city was "heavily involved" in the project.

White, the executive director, said any inspection records her company may have are now with the attorney representing the organization in the lawsuit.

But she said, "you can't get the lights turned on without an inspection."

"I think that would be impossible," White said.