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Last Dance at the McGuire

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There’s a lot of mixed feelings as you pass by the McGuire Apartments.  This 25-story, 272-apartment high rise is only nine years old but steps are being taken to finally begin demolition and arguably, it’s the first time in Pacific Northwest history that a high rise is being de-constructed due to structural defects.  

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The last of McGuire’s renters moved out in August and most of the street level venues are gone. FedEx/Kinko’s looks to be the last retailer to turn out the lights. They’re working nearly round the clock to relocate to Fourth and Cedar, in space formerly occupied by Katie’s Formal Wear and The Christian Science Reading Room. They expect to be relocated by the second week of November or sooner.

But let’s move to the tale of a project gone horribly wrong. McGuire was built in 2001 at a cost of $32 million. Its owners, Carpenter’s Tower LLC, is a property-owning collective of Carpenters Union Local 131 and the Multi-Employer Property Trust (pension funds).  The contractor, Mc Carthy Building Companies Inc., was founded in 1864 and is now employee owned.  Headquartered in St. Louis, they are one of the top ten commercial builders in the U.S., with $3.5 billion in annual revenue and nine offices nationwide.  The McGuire location was prime Belltown property at Second Avenue and Wall Street.  This looked like a partnership made in heaven.

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Until 2007, that is, when Carpenter’s Tower filed a lawsuit against McCarthy over construction problems. Reports surfaced that the post-tensioned steel cables reinforcing the concrete slab floors were corroding because the ends were not properly protected with corrosion-preventive paint. Claims arose that the grout used to seal the cable ends and anchors was not the specified non-shrink grout and was defectively installed. This resulted in water leaking into these areas, causing cable ends to rust and corrode.  Deficiencies in the concrete material and reinforcement placement were also getting notice.  

After a number of inspections by a number of firms, it was concluded that the cables were likely to start breaking in 2011, and nearly one-third of them would fail by 2019. The Department of Planning and Development declared that the city intended to issue an order calling the building unsafe and if the problems couldn’t be fixed, that McGuire be demolished.   After trying to work out ways to save the building, it was decided to let it go.  Recently, legal questions were finally resolved between Carpenters Tower and McCarthy about the decision to raze the building and they have reached agreements with all the project’s subcontractors.  Settlement terms were not disclosed. Applications have now been made to the city for a demolition permit. A contractor has not been selected and a timeline has not been set.

So, a project filled with promise takes a final bow before fading away in plain sight. The dreams of Carpenter’s Tower LLC will be taken down piece by piece, a slower death than usual because of the building’s location.  One can’t help but feel the pain and anger of the union and the pension funds, and astonishment as to how McGuire’s construction could have so bad to have warranted an actual demolition. We’re sure we haven’t heard the last of this tale, and will keep you apprised of further developments.