I-Team Report: Rust in Peace

January 7, 2010 9:12:02 AM PST
It was to be Shangri-La, or at least part of the 90-story building would have housed the nation's first Shangri-La Hotel along with multi-million dollar condos, riverfront office space and high-end retail. But the deal soured with only 25 stories of girders put up and for nearly two years, the project has been left to rust in peace.The blemish on the south bank of the Chicago River mars one of Chicago's most prominent corners: Clark and Wacker.

The plans were as lofty as the Waterview Tower was to be tall At 90 stories, almost 1,050 feet, it would have been fifth highest structure in the city. But after finishing only 25 floors-mainly the parking structure - the developer ran out of money, the bank foreclosed, and construction firms are owed at least $85 million.

But as unfortunate and unsightly as it may be, it is the potential unsafety that has city officials on edge.

"You have crane in a high traffic area in downtown Chicago that's not being monitored on a daily basis, and even though there's nothing specifically wrong with the crane, it's just the idea of the unknown. You just don't know what could happen," said Judy Frydland, deputy city attorney.

What could happen to an unattended crane tower 25 stories up, is outlined in this emergency motion filed by city lawyers in Cook County court, stating there is "an imminent threat of injury to the public health and safety," pointing to these cracks in the crane support slabs.

"That makes the city nervous, it's just up there," said Frydland.

An emergency motion filed by the city asked that the crane atop the building be removed immediately - a motion that was filed last July 2. Click here to read the motion

It was just Wednesday in court--more than six months later--that attorneys for the building owner, the crane owner, the contractors, the bank and assorted other interested parties managed to finalize a timeline for getting the crane down.

"Anyway you look at it the city strongly believes that this crane needs to come down," said Frydland.

Records show city building department inspectors have visited the site weekly since last summer to make sure the crane structure was sound, even though it was put up in 2006 and hasn't been used since 2008. Click here to see the inspection dates

On Wednesday a rooftop crew was erecting a derrick to facilitate removal of the crane. Depending on the weather, the process could be complete in a couple of weeks.

"Getting it out of there will be the biggest safety challenge," said Cindy Menches, professor of civil engineering, Illinois Institute Of Technology.

Professor Menches says once the crane is removed, the partial skeleton of the building will still be usable for a potential buyer.

"Concrete can withstand the elements extremely well that's why it's one of our most popular building materials...Mostly the rebar will be the issue-that's the reinforcing steel bars-they may need to be replaced or reinforced further because they've been sitting in the elements," said Menches.

Some downtown developers think the dormant shell will eventually have to be torn down. But that depends how fast there's a buyer.

We do know who's paying the $800,000 it costs to take away the crane - the lead contractor is paying a third, the property owner the rest.

The I-Team learned from the building department that nothing in the city code mandates how often cranes are to be inspected. The city says it tries to inspect each crane once a week.




To view liens on the property go to:

www.ccrd.info/CCRD/il031/index.jspr - Click on pin search and then enter PIN 17-09-419-002-0000