Implosion of Vegas hotel tower complex but doable

AP News
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Posted: Aug 17, 2011 3:21 AM
Implosion of Vegas hotel tower complex but doable

The prospect of an imploding hotel tower on the Las Vegas Strip conjures images of Hollywood blockbusters _ lots of dynamite, a dramatic fall and billowing clouds of dust.

But the owners of the never-opened Harmon near the Strip's midpoint are convinced that bringing down the 26-story structure can be done safely, with minimal disruption to neighboring buildings and nearby traffic.

Seems tough to fathom given where the stylish oval cylinder sits, but demolition experts say it shouldn't be too tough thanks to the building's size and the pedigree of those running the job.

"They have to be careful, they have to clean all around it, and they have to make sure there's an area where the building comes down if it spreads out," said Herb Duane, a demolition consultant based in New Hampshire who has worked in the industry more than 30 years.

"Twenty-six stories is very doable," Duane told The Associated Press.

MGM Resorts International, the casino company that owns the Harmon as part of its $8.5 billion CityCenter joint venture, said as it proposed demolition to the county that implosion is the best option for a building that they say wouldn't be able to support its own weight in a strong earthquake. County building officials had asked the company to propose a plan to fix the building they call a public health hazard.

The Harmon was originally envisioned as a boutique hotel and condominium tower to open in December 2009 with the rest of the 67-acre complex of hotels, entertainment and a casino. But problems with reinforcing steel in the construction led MGM Resorts to shorten the tower in half and put off its opening at least a year. It never opened.

Now, plans call for an implosion in six months, followed by four months of cleanup.

Company spokesman Alan Feldman declined comment Tuesday, saying the company was waiting for all necessary approvals from the county and court officials handling a separate legal case involving MGM Resorts and Tutor Perini Corp., the main contractor for CityCenter. A county spokesman declined comment.

Perini contends the building is structurally sound, and that MGM Resorts is pushing for demolition to bolster its legal case because it's more economically wise than having to fill more rooms on the Strip. No matter what happens to the Harmon, MGM Resorts and Perini are likely to still have a dispute over unpaid construction bills.

Representatives for LVI Services, Inc., the demolition company that would run the job, and Controlled Demolition, Inc., the subcontractor in charge of the implosion itself, declined comment, referring questions to MGM Resorts.

Thousands of pedestrians walking along the Strip pass beneath the Harmon daily. Its evening shadow drapes across a six-lane side street that serves as the main taxi and parking entrance to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, its swanky next-door neighbor that opened nine months ago. From the Cosmopolitan's pool deck, the Harmon's north side is a short tee shot away.

But gamblers inside the Cosmopolitan likely won't have to get up from their slot machines or blackjack tables while the building is imploded, said Eric Kelly, owner of Idaho-based Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc.

"It would be OK," said Kelly, who said he had two buildings evacuated that were 40 feet and 90 feet away from a 31-story hotel he imploded in West Palm Beach, Fla., last year.

Cosmopolitan officials declined comment.

Demolishers would likely minimize dust by gutting the building as much as possible of glass and other materials, and leave a pile of debris about 40 feet high _ roughly 1.5 feet for each floor, Duane said.

"The more they strip out of the building, the less dust they're going to have," Duane said. "They will clean it all out."

Duane and Kelly said the demolition would likely be performed when foot and vehicle traffic is typically light, and street sweepers will have the dust cleaned within an hour.

Kelly said that by increasing the number of floors rigged with explosives, demolishers can better control implosions.

"The more floors you shoot, the straighter down it will fall," he said.

LVI Services has demolished some of Sin City's most notable icons of the past, including the Sands Hotel, the Desert Inn, the Stardust and the Aladdin. While previous implosions in Las Vegas have prompted viewing parties, LVI said in its plan submitted to county building officials that safety is its first priority.

"The LVI team considers protection of the public and surrounding infrastructure paramount to the demolition and removal strategy," the company said.

Kelly said implosions are preferable to other methods of razing buildings because they are faster and less risky to workers.

But despite many implosions in Las Vegas and around the world _ with plenty immortalized on YouTube _ only a short list of people can actually pull the job off, he said.

"There's two, maybe three people in the world that can shoot a building like that," Kelly said.

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Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.