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Contractor sues developer over ‘leaning’ lower Manhattan condo tower

April 3, 2019

A contractor who worked on a lower Manhattan condo tower—which is now leaning slightly—is suing the project’s developer, accusing the firm of cutting corners to curb costs, according to court documents.


The 58-story tower at 161 Maiden Lane, also known as 1 Seaport, is leaning north by about three inches because the skyscraper’s foundation is defective, according to a March 22 lawsuit filed by the project’s contractor, Pizzarotti, in New York State Supreme Court. The suit was first reported by the Commercial Observer.


But a representative for Fortis Property Group, the project’s developer, points the finger at Pizzarotti for the leaning lower Manhattan tower, and says the contractor improperly poured a concrete slab and failed to account for the settling of the foundation. Pizzarotti is now in “panic mode” and filed the suit in a last-ditch effort to avoid damages, according to the Fortis spokesperson.


“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,” said the spokesperson. “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 lawsuit argues that while working with a separate contractor on the project, the developer, Fortis went against recommendations outlined in a 2014 geotechnical report to drive piles deep into the property’s foundation and instead went for the cheaper alternative of “soil improvement.” The suit claims “cost was FPG’s primary consideration.”


Once the soil improvement was completed, which was done before Pizzaotti was hired to oversee construction in December 2015, Pizzarotti poured a concrete mat slab atop the improved soil foundation. Work on the 670-foot tall structure progressed, but in April 2018, concrete subcontractor RC Structure reported “structural issues, unusual settlement up to three inches, and the building is leaning three inches to the north,” court records show.


Two months later, the subcontractor handling the non-structural curtain wall—an outer covering on the facade of the building—noticed that the frame already installed on the east side terrace was leaning “approximately two inches difference to the north from Floor 11 to 21” and that the building is now “exhibiting a bowing or curve in its verticality,” according to the complaint.


At the time the suit was filed, Pizzarotti said it had been unable to install the remaining curtain wall—the superstructure was completed in September 2018—because Fortis had not designed a new facade system to account for the leaning and argued, that as a matter of safety, work at the site should be halted with an injunction until the structural issues are fully understood and addressed, the legal filing states.


“In order to ensure the safety of workers, the public and adjoining property, and ultimately, the building occupants, not to mention the proper functioning of the curtainwall and elevator systems, the work on this project should not proceed any further,” states the suit.


Pizzarotti is looking to recover overrun costs, such as for labor, equipment, and construction, it says it incurred during work on the site—a multimillion-dollar figure. The European contractor says it notified Fortis that it planned to terminate the construction contract with the developer on March 1. Pizzarotti did not immediately return requests for comment. 


The Fortis spokesperson acknowledged that the building has a "misalignment issue," but says recent surveys of the tower “reflect no further movement.” A new general contractor for the project, Ray Builders, is in the midst of installing a redesigned curtain wall on the tower. In the meantime, a pair of engineering firms have evaluated the project for safety concerns.


“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,” the spokesperson continued. 


Fortis says Pizzarotti never terminated the contract and that it was the developer who sent a notice of default and termination on March 25—before they were aware of the suit, which wasn’t until March 28, according to the spokesperson. The termination was effective April 2.


“The fact that Pizzarotti has had more than 70 of its own employees and subcontractors working throughout the building over the past several months (including as recently as last week) substantiates Pizzarotti’s duplicity and underlying intent to defame the project,” said the spokesperson.


Fortis is preparing countersuits against the contractor to recover damages and for defamation. The spokesperson would not say when those claims will be filed.


The building has already suffered a series of setbacks. Construction was halted for a time after an employee, Juan Chonillo, with a former concrete subcontractor, SSC High Rise Construction, fell to his death from the project’s 29th floor. Officials said Chonillo was wearing a harness but that it wasn’t tethered to anything. SSC ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the case, and the company was replaced by RC Structure.



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