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'Leaning' NY High-Rise Sparks Lawsuit

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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Italy-based general contractor for New York City's Seaport condominium project, Pizzarotti LLC, has recently filed a lawsuit against Fortis Property Group LLC (Brooklyn, New York).

The lawsuit, filed with New York County Supreme Court, alleges that foundation work completed at the Seaport Residencies by Fortis is now causing issues with the building’s structural integrity, facade, waterproofing and elevators.

The Tower History

Pizzarotti joined the project in 2015 as the general contractor for the Seaport Residencies, after foundation work was completed. Construction for the superstructure began in 2016. Since then, the 58-story structure has faced numerous delays.

Right after building began, the developer had been sued for a trademark violation, causing a change in the name from 1 Seaport to Seaport Residencies.

In 2017, an accident resulted in the death of an on-site worker. As the result of an unlatched harness, the worker fell 29 stories to his death, causing a four-month delay in construction.

Other delays, largely related to the pouring of concrete slabs for the floors, have also ocurred, causing the replacement of subcontractor SCC Concrete with RC Structures. RC then reported the structural issues, unusual settlement and leaning of the tower in 2018.

Over the course of construction, there have been a total of 17 violations at the site, six of which are still open according to the New York City Department of Buildings’ database.

Pizzarotti has also notified its termination from the construction project as of March 1 (although it continued working on the development until the end of the month).

Since its termination, Fortis has hired a new general contractor, Ray Builders, to redesign and install the revamped facade and resolve the alignment issue. Although the project was originally slated to be complete by spring 2018, an updated completion date has not been released.

“As two of the top engineering firms in the world, Arup and WSP, have certified, there are no safety issues at the building and construction can continue immediately,” stated Fortis spokesperson.

The Lawsuit

Pizzarotti has accused developer Fortis of choosing to use a “soil improvement” method in order to shore up the construction site instead of driving support piles down into bedrock.

Pizzarotti claims that prior to it joining the project, a geotechnical consultant recommended the use of deep piles in the foundation design, but that Fortis went with an alternative system to save money. This decision, according to Pizzarotti, is the reason the tower is now leaning three inches to the north.

In response, a Fortis spokesperson said, “This lawsuit is patently false from start to finish and nothing more than simple defamation and a desperate attempt by a failing general contractor to divert attention from the fact it defaulted on yet another New York City project.

“As a number of prominent New York City developers have learned the hard way over the past few years, Pizzarotti is simply incapable of buying out, managing and completing a construction project within contractually promised timelines.”

The attorney for Pizzarotti, Christopher Kinzel, and other company representatives have declined to comment. However, as part of the suit, Pizzarotti is seeking to break free of its contract obligations as well as recover money owed for unpaid work and overrun costs, from which they have already paid $25 million.

Since taking over, CEO of Ray Builders, Jacob Mermelstein, has sided with Fortis on the leaning building.

“[Pizzarotti] didn’t pour the slabs correctly so we have to accommodate for their poor construction practice in the installation of the curtain wall,” Mermelstein said.

Other Soft Soil Construction

Much like the Seaport Residencies, the Millennium Tower in San Francisco also chose not to employ a foundation that used piles to anchor the structure into bedrock. A decision that will cost them almost the same as the original price of the construction for the tower itself—$350 million—to fix.

Since the tower’s opening in April 2009, it has sunk 18 inches and titled 14 inches to the west.

In November 2018, a plan was devised to correct the tilt, calling to drill piles into the bedrock from the sidewalk of the building’s southwest corner, instead of micro piles going into the bedrock though the concrete foundation, which had been an original suggestion.

Reportedly, developers are pointing fingers at the nearby Transbay Joint Powers Authority's $2.2 billion transit center and dewatering that took place during the tower's construction.


Tagged categories: Building design; Building facades; Commercial Buildings; Commercial Construction; Commercial contractors; concrete; Construction; Developers; Lawsuits; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; Projects - Commercial

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (4/9/2019, 1:22 AM)

So much for quality and sound engineering follow through. Again, the bean counters point the finger at the professionals who dedicated their careers to the proper way of doing things. The almighty dollar rules. Would you feel safe in these structures on an every day basis? Especially on a fault zone and/or what is essentially a land fill. After Pisa, the methods developed have withstood centuries. Sad that buildings have been cheapened and are now throw aways. I wonder how many tax dollars & tax breaks are forever lost here.

Comment from peter gibson, (4/9/2019, 10:48 AM)

Be interesting to see who will eat the cost of the SF tower. Going to be a good one.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/9/2019, 11:56 AM)

There is a reason there are professionals in the field of foundation design and geotechnical engineering. Whether it is a tower in San Fransisco or New York, or a little bridge in Saskatchewan, it's a pretty good idea to invest the money in a geotechnical investigation and then to actually make use of the findings. If the geotechnical report recommended piles but the designer or contractor when with "soil improvement techniques" this could get very ugly in court. I might need to get out the popcorn for this one...

Comment from Tony Rangus, (4/13/2019, 12:18 PM)

Would a Professional Engineer have been required, for both New York & California too Seal the geotechnical investigation/drawings/specifications? If so, can those Engineers be held liable?

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/16/2019, 11:14 AM)

Tony, it sounds like a geotechnical engineer / consultant was employed and recommended a pile foundation to bedrock for the NY building (and I believe it was the same in California)....but is sounds like someone on the design team decided on something different. I suspect that as part of the lawsuits, the design engineers' decisions will be under scrutiny and, if found lacking, they will likely be referred to the corresponding state engineering regulators / professional associations and subject to censure.

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