After delays that threatened to push the project into 2021, the City of New Orleans announced on Jan. 17 that the partially collapsed structure of the unfinished, 18-story Hard Rock Hotel will be brought down in a controlled demolition in late March, under a new plan to be submitted by demolition contractor D.H. Griffin Cos.
Three construction workers were killed and dozens were injured when the upper floors of the New Orleans Hard Rock Hotel collapsed on Oct. 12, 2019. The partial structural failure pancaked portions of the upper floors, sending debris into the street below and damaging two adjacent tower cranes.
The cranes were successfully brought down in a controlled demolition a week after the collapse, but the rest of the building has remain largely undisturbed since then.
Demolition contractor Dem/Tech had initially planned a controlled demolition of the hotel using explosives. But that plan was soon switched to a more conventional demolition, where the building would be stabilized using temporary supports and shoring while workers took it down piece-by-piece. This change of plan pushed the schedule back to at least December 2020.
“That last plan stretched that timeline out to over a year almost, more than a year,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell in a press conference on Jan. 17. “That created safety concerns as a result of that timeline.” There were also concerns from the project’s insurer, which was uneasy about plans to have hundreds of workers laboring in a structurally unsound jobsite for months at a time.
“You’ve repeatedly heard me say, since November when we switched over from the implosion that was being talked about then by [Dem/Tech], to the conventional demolition of picking the building apart, just how dangerous this was,” said New Orleans Fire Dept. Chief Tim McConnell. “We talked about it. Putting hundreds of people in there for thousand of hours to get a building that is very unstable shored up, and then the timeline increasing where this puts us into 2021. It’s just unacceptable.”
Cantrell announced at Friday’s press conference that Dem/Tech is no longer on the project, and a team led by demolition contractor D.H. Griffin Cos. will be submitting a new plan. The new plan will involve a controlled demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel using explosives, which will have the building down in a few months rather than over a year. It will also require the advance demolition of three smaller, adjacent buildings to create a buffer for the larger demolition.
The new plan has been endorsed by the hotel project’s developer, 1031 Canal Street Development LLC. Earlier concerns over demolition permits for the adjacent buildings had been blamed by the developer for the delays in demolition work. According to Cantrell, those permits are expected to be swiftly approved under the new plan.
“Once the controlled implosion happens we will be able to scale back to the actual site, and streets will be able to open again much sooner,” said Cantrell.
“We are going to revert back to an implosion of the site as being necessary to ensuring public safety and being aligned for a timeline that is more suitable for the City of New Orleans, for the families, for the businesses and residents that have been greatly impacted,” she added. “The City of New Orleans has been unzipped, without a doubt, as relates to this collapse.”
Located at the busy corner of Canal St. and Rampart St. on the edge of the city’s famous French Quarter, detours around the damaged hotel have lead to traffic snarls and closed businesses in one of New Orlean’s busiest neighborhoods.
Demolition contractor D.H. Griffin is not new to the Hard Rock site. It led the team that successfully brought down the two damaged tower cranes using controlled demolition in October 2019.
David Griffin, president of D.H. Griffin, tells ENR that he expects to bring in some of the same team that helped bring down the damaged cranes, including structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti as well as the experts at Controlled Demolition, Inc. “Implosion is the best way to take the building down, and the safest way,” he says. “This is a very dangerous structure, a very dangerous building.”
But despite the challenges, Griffin says he is excited to be back on the project. “We got the team, we’ve all worked together before on other projects—I feel good about our team.”
Getting the job done sooner rather than later was a major motivator, according to Fire Chief McConnell. “This is absolutely the safest way to take the building down, and the benefit of having the shorter timeline is something that will help. We have hurricane season coming on June 1.”
The next step will be for D.H. Griffin to submit its official plan for the demolition, which the City of New Orleans will review in the coming weeks. The valuation of the demolition contract has not been disclosed.
The controlled implosion of the Hard Rock hotel is planned for mid-to-late March, and Cantrell says the city will deploy similar environmental monitoring and safety precautions as were used during the demolition of the tower cranes in November.