The Chandler Elevation project faces yet another hurdle: Its owner must prove the long-vacant building shell is structurally sound.
This new requirement comes after city engineers raised concerns the building may not be able to support the weight it was designed for because the concrete and steel shell has sat unfinished for so long.
City planners will require the project’s design engineers to certify the building hasn’t been weakened and that its floors are strong enough to be occupied.
Planners notified Elevation developer Jeff Cline of their concern in October, according to documents recently released to the Tribune through a public records request. Cline told city officials and the Tribune that engineers have determined the building is safe.
“We haven’t seen the report yet, so I don’t know specifically what that means,” said Doug Ballard, Chandler’s planning and development director. “We’re going to want to see a sealed report from the engineer.”
Construction stalled in mid-2006 on the 10-story condo and hotel project, and unpaid contractors filed millions in liens against Cline’s company, Signature Properties West. Cline later got a $25 million loan to resume work at the end of last year, then put the project up for sale early this year. Work never resumed on the project adjacent to Chandler Fashion Center.
Ballard is concerned the structural system could have weakened in the time the building has stood idle. It’s constructed with post-tensioned concrete slabs, which involves running steel cables through the floors for support. That kind of flooring system needs weight placed on it when it’s relatively new to stress the concrete, which strengthens it.
Buildings can weaken if they don’t have this weight on them initially and become useless in extreme cases, Ballard said. The changing of the seasons adds more stress by exposing the flooring systems to changing temperatures before the structure has had weight on it, Ballard said.
“We don’t know if that’s a problem or not. It can be,” Ballard said. “That’s something we’re going to want to be addressed by a structural engineer.”
Cline said the developers spent several hundred thousands of dollars to add steel and concrete to the project after work stalled, to ensure the structure would stay in good condition. An engineer determined the building was fine in the past few weeks, Cline said.
“There have been absolutely no known structural issues ever with the building,” Cline wrote in an e-mail. “A formal structural report will be submitted, as the city has requested, as part of the permit application when construction begins.”
Cline said he’s confident work will resume in a few months. He added he is under a confidentiality agreement that prevents him from giving specifics on the project’s completion.
Mayor Boyd Dunn said if work can’t resume on the site soon, the building shell needs to be torn down.
“If that’s the only way to bring the site to order and to bring it to a safe condition, then I hope that would happen,” Dunn said.
He cited the potential structural issues, the year of no progress and that part of the building was covered with graffiti this week as reasons why the shell shouldn’t stay up much longer. Other midrise buildings are planned nearby, proving this area can attract other projects if the Elevation concept can’t be salvaged.
But Councilman Martin Sepulveda said the city is in no position to call for demolition because it doesn’t own the building.
“That doesn’t solve anything,” Sepulveda said. “We need to figure out a solution to move this project forward.”