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The Phantom Inspection

This building, located at the corner of Farish and Amite streets, was under renovation by developer David Watkins for a B.B. King’s restaurant, but Watkins says foundation problems halted the project.

This building, located at the corner of Farish and Amite streets, was under renovation by developer David Watkins for a B.B. King’s restaurant, but Watkins says foundation problems halted the project. Photo by Trip Burns.

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When the David Watkins camp responded to the Jackson Redevelopment Authority's decision to cancel Watkins lease on the Farish Street Entertainment District project, it sent JRA a 10-page letter that outlined the setbacks. It was an effort to explain what had happened, when and what would happen next if Watkins is not involved in the project going forward.

Watkins may turn out to be right about the projects future—he says the project is "doomed" without him—but one of the biggest reasons he lists as a setback may not be anyone else's fault.

In that 10-page letter, dated Oct. 9, 2013, Watkins, through his attorney Lance Stevens, said: "The most significant delay resulted from the discovery in June of 2012 of the hidden structural defects in the B.B. King Building foundation. The engineering and construction solution to the newly discovered structural flaw resulted in increased costs of over $1.5 million and months of delay."

Stevens explained to the JFP last month in the run-up to a related story that the building passed one inspection before a subsequent inspection found that the foundation wasn't just lacking, but nonexistent.

But that may not be the whole story The company, and the individual engineer, who supposedly gave the building a pass during the first inspection, both deny that they inspected the building's foundation.

"We do not do foundation work or assess foundations," said CivilTech engineer Elmore Moody, who supposedly inspected the building for Farish Street Group. "We would need core drilling equipment that we do not use."

Watkins said Monday through email that he hired CivilTech for the purpose of evaluating whether the structural design of the building would support the additional weight from the expanded use of the new club on the third floor. Moody and CivilTech provided Watkins with computer-assisted designs, he said, which suggested that the building needed a new system of beams, joists and columns to support the additional load.

"Based on those designs," Watkins wrote "approximately $400,000 was expended on the structural support requirements." He added that neither the architectural drawings he received from his predecessor—Farish Street's former developer Performa—nor the report from CivilTech gave any indication any foundation issues. "Most certainly, the extensive structural work on the building that was completed was done based upon the recommendation," he concluded. "No recommendation was made by CivilTech, nor was there a suggestion made, that any additional engineering studies needed to be conducted, including any soil or foundation testing."

JRA Board President and New Horizon Church Pastor Ronnie Crudup said Friday that the first he heard of the foundation was when Watkins informed JRA of the building's structural problems about two years ago. "I, as well as, I'm sure, my fellow (board members) assumed that they had done their homework," Crudup said.

"Frankly, that's on their end of things."

Comments

jaytown 5 years, 11 months ago

The engineer that did the work just messed up. Do you really think he's going to admit to a reporter that he committed malpractice!!! Watkins screwed up by not hiring a more qualified engineer to start with.

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David_Reynolds 5 years, 11 months ago

In budgeting facilities projects involving existing infrastructure, engineering costs can be the least predictable for project planners and managers. Policy, procedure, regulations, risk tolerance, contingency funds available - all figure into how extensive and expensive engineering due diligence will be. Basically, the scope of engineering due diligence is a business decision, constrained by project circumstances. Engineers are abundantly capable and willing to assess conditions, derive and recommend corrective approaches, and work with architects, owners, general contractors, and regulators toward solutions, but how and how much they apply themselves at any given time is a project management call. Jaytown's point is well taken if the engineer's scope was to do whatever was necessary to be very sure of the structure (or any other system to be evaluated), but if the engineering consultant competently performed the full scope of assigned work, either a well informed project team took what looked like an acceptable risk, or the team didn't take specific risks into account. When things go wrong, analyzing root causes shows up that last one uncomfortably often, with communications a contributing problem. When project financing is complicated and contingency provisions are minimal, probably best to go with the full meal deal for engineering services - however much you can afford.

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JLucas 5 years, 11 months ago

So, as I read David's comment, the fault for poor due diligence may lie in the engineer’s contract? Suggesting that perhaps a foundation analysis was not an explicit part of the work. But is it not a reasonable expectation that a "structural evaluation" of a building would include all of its load-bearing components, including the foundation? Even if the engineer by this own admission didn't have the expertise or equipment to inspect the foundation, aren't there several foundation engineering and repair companies that perform this type of inspection (with ads on tv) who could have been brought in by the owner or under the engineer's contract? Foundation problems are so common to this area (my uncle's house a prime example) it seems like that’s the FIRST thing that should have been investigated. Instead it looks like everyone assumed the foundation was adequate, and we all know what happens when we ASS-U-ME!

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David_Reynolds 5 years, 11 months ago

Strongly agree, especially your closing. Painstaking project planning is just that - a pain, and a time taking and expensive one at that. But even small four and five figure building rehabilitation projects involving knowledgable and cooperative owners and providers can get into trouble PDQ without it. With some components underground and the developer intent to add appreciable load, the risk calculation (likelihood that something might be amiss X consequences if so) favors going to the requisite trouble. Of course, responsibilities and liabilities and such will have to be worked out. Going forward, more formality in planning and attention to communications is probably due. I hope that the whole development can succeed. Midtown, just up the railroad, is a pretty promising neighborhood right now. It's nice to see revival of old properties close to the downtown.

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jwslyde 5 years, 11 months ago

Civil-tech engineering say they weren't hired to evaluate the foundation and they don't do that type of work. Who was hired to do that ? Where is the report? Why would it cost $1.5 million Why did Watkins wait until the build out phase to check out the foundation AFTER spending "millions " of his own money ? This wasn't his first Rodeo .... or was it?

I smell BS. Watkins BS. Time to reinterview Watkins.

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