Corker fires back on Passage

Corker fires back on Passage

April 24th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., slammed the current Chattanooga administration last week for not following through on a $108,000 fix to the Passage attraction on the downtown waterfront years before the city spent more than $1 million on renovations.

"There were offers by the subcontractors to solve these problems at no cost, and no one took it up," Corker said during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "So here we are six years later, still with problems, because people don't want to work with each other or don't want to find a solution."

Corker also said that, as far as he knew, everything at the waterfront that needed to be fixed was repaired under his administration. The waterfront project was Corker's signature initiative when he served as Chattanooga mayor from 2001 to 2005.

"I can absolutely, categorically tell you that as mayor I knew of no problems that were unaddressed," Corker said.

But Mayor Ron Littlefield's spokesman said the fix proposed by contractor Hargreaves Associates Inc. in 2005 would have held the company harmless for any other problems occurring at the 21st Century Waterfront.

"The fix wasn't really a fix," spokesman Richard Beeland said. "It only addressed some of the problems. It held the contractors and construction companies harmless."

Construction on the $120 million waterfront project began in 2003. Court records show contractors began noticing the walls moving and cracking and tiles beginning to fall off as early as October 2004.

Then in 2007 electrical problems were found in the Passage - which uses flowing water as part of the attraction - costing the city $1.5 million over two years to fix. Now the city is estimating another $1 million to fix problems at the hard concrete edge of the waterfront on the Tennessee River.

The city in 2009 sued the River City Co., a nonprofit downtown development company that oversaw the waterfront project, along with designer Hargreaves and builder Continental Construction. River City Co., Hargreaves and Continental filed countersuits against the city and each other.

Dan Kral, former project manager on the 21st Century Waterfront, said that, during the construction, the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Organization, made up of the mayor, chief of staff, chief financial officer and City Council chairman, received weekly updates on the project and knew about problems at the waterfront.

Court records show Hargreaves workers noticed problems in 2004 and in January, February and March 2005, during the last months of Corker's administration. Problems also were reported at the beginning of Littlefield's administration, which began in 2005, records show.

In court records, the city maintains it did not know about problems before 2007. But a judge earlier this year tossed out the city's lawsuit against River City, ruling the city knew about the problems in 2005.

Current city officials have declined to comment on the issue pending a decision on the appeal of the ruling.

The city also was unable to produce inspection reports for the project before 2007. Public Works Administrator Steve Leach previously said city inspectors were not allowed at the 21st Century Waterfront before 2007.

But the former city code inspector, Henry Yankowski, and the former assistant city engineer, Naveed Minhas, said the waterfront work should have been inspected. Each pointed to the other as the one responsible for inspections.

Code inspectors are responsible for making sure building and construction permits are properly followed and mechanical or electrical systems meet the standards of city code. City engineers are responsible for making sure structures are adequately designed and structurally sound.

Yankowski said code inspectors only look at physical buildings, such as the Tennessee Aquarium or the Hunter Museum, not public improvement projects like the 21st Century Waterfront. He said city engineers would have been responsible for inspections on public improvements.

"I don't think it was part of our purview," he said.

But Minhas said the code inspector's office should have reviewed electrical and mechanical operations at the waterfront project. City engineers have no jurisdiction over those inspections, he said.

"It's always been and still is the responsibility of the [code] inspection department," he said.