The first important court date is set for March 31 in Seattle over a lawsuit by a joint venture of Skanska and the Hunt Construction Group against the Washington State Convention Center, which plans a new building. The convention center dismissed the joint venture as prime contractor for the project earlier this month.

The Skanska-Hunt joint venture filed a lawsuit March 18 in King County Superior Court to stop the convention center from hiring a replacement contractor for the $1.45-billion addition.

Construction work had not started yet. The convention center's website lists the project as a proposed addition and quotes the convention center chief executive, Jeffrey A. Blosser, as saying construction "could begin in 2017."

Whether the dismissal and legal challenge will be decided by the rules of the innovative delivery method being used, and allowed by Washington State since 1994, isn't clear.

The Washington State Convention Center Facilities District selected Skanska-Hunt as the general contractor/construction manager in July, 2015 under Revised Code of Washington, Ch. 39.10, which governs alternative delivery methods and processes for public projects. In its complaint, Skanska-Hunt called the termination “illegal and wrong,” citing that the firm’s preconstruction cost estimates were below budget.

In its complaint, Skanska-Hunt claims that its proposed fee, 2.95% of the construction budget, was 30% lower than that of its next closest competitor, a joint venture of Clark Construction Group and Lease Crutcher Lewis. A third joint venture also made the short list, Mortenson Construction and PCL Construction Services.

The sole allowance for cancellation of a contractor/construction manager, according to Ch. 39.10, is if the contractor/construction manager and owner could not, “negotiate a satisfactory maximum allowable construction cost.”

In a statement issued March 18, Skanska USA Building Executive Vice President Chris Toher accused the convention center of violating its  “contractual obligations and applicable law based on incorrect advice." Toher said Skanska hopes "the Convention Center will take immediate steps to right this wrong now that it better understands its legal and contractual obligations.”

Developer Cite Poor Fit

Matt Griffin, managing partner at Pine Street Group L.L.C., the development manager for the project, said in a statement released at the time of the dismissal that Skanska-Hunt was, “not the right fit.”

“We will extend the schematic design process and then restart the contractor selection process to find the best fit and value for WSCC’s investment,” Griffin said.

Skanska-Hunt, Pine Street Group L.L.C., and the Washington State Convention Center declined further comment.

Washington lawmakers began codifying alternative delivery such as contractor/construction manager, also known as construction manager-at-risk, in 2007.

The site of the addition project is in downtown Seattle’s Denny Triangle Urban Center Village, about one block northeast of the existing Washington State Convention Center. The project will add 250,000 sq ft of exhibit space, 125,000 sq ft of meeting rooms, and 60,000 sq ft of ballroom space. Completion is anticipated in 2020.

This article was revised April 6th, 2016 to include the date of adoption of Ch. 39.10.