Apr 24, 2008

New hotel sits empty for eight years

In New Castle, Delaware, there stands a hotel, intended to be a Radisson, built in 2000, that has never been used. It’s empty. You can’t find many bigger examples of waste than that.

The site is in a wetlands area, so there are specific requirements about the amount of land a building can use. In addition, most building codes require parking for a specific number of people based on the expected occupancy of the building. The capacity of the hotel will affect the acreage to be covered with asphalt.

All went well until the building was finished and the county noticed that it was two floors higher than what had been approved. Was it intentional, or a blunder made by both the county and the builders? Some say there are construction companies in Northern Delaware related to crime families. But maybe the county employees who saw and approved the plan were negligent. Or the developer had a miscommunication with its architects and engineers. All these claims have been made.

The county was outraged at the overbuilding. They refused to grant a certificate of occupancy. They said the builders could tear down the top two floors, or – get this – fill them with foam.

After eight years of legal wrangling and $1.6 million in attorney fees, buying and selling of the building, the original developers won $7.5 million from the county in court. It was a jury trial. Not hard to get juries to side against the government.

The new owners, who bought the hotel in 2003 for $11.2 million to add lodging for the horse racing track they operate, have found problems with the electrical system, fire sprinklers and temperature controls, fire escape stairs and fire doors. Hmmm… did they order enough stuff for the two extra floors on the hotel? Eight years of vacancy is a recipe for deterioration too.

Funny story. But think about the amount of copper, aluminum and steel sitting there for all this time. The polymers in the carpets, décor and plastic components – that will probably be scrapped – were produced from petroleum products. Labor was wasted in the construction, but also in manufacturing all the bathroom fixtures, doors and windows, and elevators. And fire control systems. And attorneys’ fees.

And it was a plain and simple human system at the root. Intentional or not, the lack of common understanding of the product and process produced a monster.

2 comments:

curiouscat said...

Very wasteful. Also what kind of inspection is done there. How was it not noticed while it was still being constructed that it was too tall? I don't really know that much about inspection but I thought in most place in the USA you had to have inspectors come in and review work before walls are sealed up...

There are some new townhouses near me that were condemned during construction. The solution required ripping some of it down because the support was not adequate. They are sitting there partially done for over 6 months - my guess is at the point the order was made the developer decided the market was not worth it and the just abandoned the project.

Karen Wilhelm said...

I wondered about inspection. If somehow the physical plans were inconsistent with the proposal, the inspectors wouldn't know. But I'm not an expert on the permitting and inspection process. Something wrong somewhere in the overall system, obviously.

Another sort of building waste to think about is rampant overbuilding of office space. There are undoubtedly plenty of buildings with low occupancy in this economic downturn. A matter of a too-narrow focus? The forecast each developer looks at makes sense, but the aggregate space is out of proportion?

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