Leaning lower Manhattan condo tower dispute heads to court with lawsuit between contractor and developer

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1 seaport rendering
Rendering of 1 Seaport from Fortis Property Group

A contractor who worked on a lower Manhattan condo tower that is leaning slightly has sued the project’s developer, accusing the firm of cutting corners to curb costs, according to court documents, the Commercial Observer reports.

The 58-story tower, named 1 Seaport, at 161 Maiden Lane, is leaning north by about three inches because the skyscraper’s foundation is defective, contractor Pizzarotti asserts in a March 22 lawsuit filed in the New York State Supreme Court.

However, Curbed New York reports that a representative for the project’s developer, Fortis Property Group says Pizzarotti improperly poured a concrete slab and failed to account for the foundation’s settling. Pizzarotti is now in “panic mode” and filed the suit in a last-ditch effort to avoid damages, the Fortis spokesperson reportedly 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,” 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.”

Pizzarotti says in its lawsuit that, while working with a separate contractor on the project, 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, the court filing says. Work on the 670-foot tall structure progressed, but in April 2018, concrete subcontractor RC Structures Inc. 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 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,” the lawsuit asserts.

Pizzarotti had been unable to install the remaining curtain wall 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 court 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,” the lawsuit says.

Pizzarotti seeks to recover millions of dollars in overrun costs, such as for labor, equipment, and construction, it says it incurred during work on the site.  The European contractor says it notified Fortis that it planned to terminate the construction contract with the developer on March 1, Curbed reported.

The Fortis spokesperson said that the building has a “misalignment issue,” but says recent surveys of the tower “reflect no further movement.”

Ray Builders is currently of installing a redesigned curtain wall on the tower as general contractor. Meanwhile, engineering firms Arup and WSP have evaluated the project for safety concerns and have certified “there are no safety issues at the building and construction can continue immediately,” the spokesperson said.

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, the spokesperson said. 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,” Curbed NY reported the spokesperson as saying.

Fortis is reportedly preparing countersuits against the contractor to recover damages and for defamation. The spokesperson declined to say when those claims will be filed.

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