image by Bill Hughes
Harmon Hotel's owner has yet to say what will replace the soon-to-be-demolished structure as a building-defects trial looms in early 2014.

Two upcoming hot tickets in Las Vegas both will feature the Harmon Hotel—once the planned showstopper of the huge CityCenter development, but now unfinished and never opened.

The $279-million hotel soon faces court-approved demolition and also is the subject of a construction-defect trial set for next February that pits co-owner MGM Resorts International against general contractor Tutor Perini Building Corp. Both events will be closely watched.

Still unclear, however, is what will happen to the prominent Las Vegas Strip location after the hotel tower's estimated $30-million demolition, which was approved Aug. 23 by a Clark County court. Harmon, designed by Foster + Partners, anchors the entrance to the $8.5-billion, 76-acre CityCenter site, which opened in 2009.

Trouble surfaced two years after the hotel broke ground in 2006, when improperly installed reinforcing-link-beam steel was found across 15 floors. County inspectors said that, in 2008, third-party inspector Converse Consultants falsified 62 daily reports that steel was properly installed when it was not. County inspectors also missed the problems.

As a result, CityCenter co-owner and operator MGM Resorts International lopped the 48-story Harmon in half, shedding 207 high-end residences, of which less than half had sold. The move trimmed $600 million from the project, providing financial relief for the cash-strapped 18-million-sq-ft CityCenter as it proceeded in a recession.

The 26-story Harmon has since languished in limbo while fueling a protracted bitter legal fight between the owner and contractor over building costs, defects and repairs.

"Perini stands by its opinion that design conflicts contributed to the Harmon Hotel structural issues and that portions of the structural drawings, as designed and permitted, contained elements of reinforcing steel that could not be installed as drawn," says Tutor Perini Buildings President Craig Shaw.

Harmon's design called for pouring top portions of 8-ft-thick link beams with the floor slab, which is a tricky procedure given the tight and exact spacing of reinforcing rebar. Tightly knit rebar resulted in congestion, the contractor says, prompting necessary field adjustments. Stirrup hooks, in some cases, were spaced incorrectly and extended past the floor, prompting workers to cut them off so they would not show, county inspectors say.

Tutor Perini subsequently developed and funded a three-month, $21-million repair by John A. Martin & Associates that MGM rejected. "It would take approximately 18 months to conduct tests and come up with an approved, permitted design to fix the Harmon, if repair is even a possibility," the owner said.

Tutor Perini is suing for nearly $200 million in unpaid bills, including work performed on Harmon, while MGM is countersuing for $400 million in building damages. Harmon underwent four rounds of destructive testing, making it no longer fixable due to "the structure being compromised by the removal of concrete," says John A. Martin.

The county court ruled, in 2012, that MGM could demolish its property without extrapolating findings from destructive testing to demonstrate building-wide defects, since samples were not randomly selected. Subsequent destructive tests yielded the same outcome. But MGM consultant Weidlinger Associates now says Harmon's "widespread, diverse structural defects" make it unfixable and susceptible to collapse in a seismic event.

John A. Martin rebuffs those claims: "Harmon Tower does not pose a life safety risk. … [We have] never agreed with the opinion expressed by [Weidlinger] that the building was likely to suffer a partial or complete collapse."

Engineer Walter P Moore, which the county hired to assess the hotel's condition, agrees. It said the building was "structurally stable under design loads from a maximum considered earthquake event."

The court recently rejected a new trial date extension request. Trial start has already changed five times. But industry experts say a razed building prior to trial could still prejudice a jury despite the legal circumstances.

A demolition plan has yet to be filed with county officials.