The future of the Las Vegas Strip's Harmon Hotel remains clouded by competing claims over the unfinished building's structural soundness.

Image by Bill Hughes
New charges swirl in controversy over the still unfinished Harmon Hotel.

Released on July 11, an engineering report commissioned by owner MGM Resorts International says construction defects in the 28-story tower are “so pervasive and varied … that it is not possible to quickly implement a temporary or permanent repair” or determine “whether repairs are possible.”

The findings contradict an earlier government report that said Harmon is “structurally stable under design loads from a maximum considered earthquake.” On July 12, Clark County building director Ron Lynn ordered MGM to provide by Aug. 15 substantiating documents and calculations from its report, performed by Weidlinger Associates, New York City. He also ordered MGM to devise a remedy for the half-built tower, including possible demolition.

The county's $125,000 assessment was written by Walter P Moore, Houston, after government inspectors discovered that Monrovia, Calif.-based Converse Consultants, a third-party inspection firm, in 2008 falsified 62 daily reports related to installation of reinforcing steel on 15 floors. The inspectors missed the problems initially. Moore says, “Story drifts and stability indices [are] acceptable, as they [fall] within code-prescribed limits. … This [is] true for all stories.”

But Pacific Coast Steel, a subcontractor to Harmon's prime contractor, Perini Building Co., had paid $14,105 in fines in 2009 after a state board found “workmanship” issues. In a settlement, the firm did not admit fault. In August 2009, Converse was banned from seeking new work in southern Nevada for six months, and its inspectors' qualifications were revoked or suspended.

Designed by Foster + Partners, London, the Harmon remains at the center of a bitter legal battle between MGM and Perini. In 2009, the owner nearly lopped the building in half as part of a cost-cutting measure, trimming 207 planned high-end residences of which less than half had sold. The move saved $600 million in construction costs.

Perini, which is still the building's permit holder, hired engineer John A. Martin & Associates, Los Angeles, to conduct its own building review. The findings rebuff the Weidlinger report, calling the Harmon safe “in its current condition” and attributing its problems to “design defects.” Martin says the building can be fixed, which Perini has offered to do. MGM says it no longer has confidence in the contractor. Company CEO Craig W. Shaw contends that the dispute “is a smoke screen to avoid payment of $200 million still owed to Perini and its subcontractors.”