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Suit is filed over concert hall

OCPAC blames the new Segerstrom venue's architect, builder and subcontractors for cost overruns and flaws it calls unfixable.

August 16, 2007|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Performing Arts Center sued star architect Cesar Pelli and construction giant Fluor Corp., blaming them and subcontractors for more than $30 million in cost overruns and irremediable design flaws in the new Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The hall, which opened 11 months ago, has been celebrated as a landmark performance space that brings new intimacy and sonic fidelity to the concert experience in Orange County. But the suit filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court questions costs that ballooned from a planned $200 million to an estimated $240 million, and design flaws that resulted in obstructed sight lines, cramped quarters and a lack of legroom in certain seats.

Most of the design and construction problems were fixable, at a cost of millions of dollars, according to the suit filed by attorney Robert C. Braun. But some are irreversible, resulting in a concert hall "less attractive and less valuable than. . . expected," the suit says.

The lawsuit, which also names noted Berkeley-based landscape designers Peter Walker and Partners as a defendant, outlines a construction process beset by disputes between builders and designers.

Irving, Texas-based Fluor contended that the construction schedule was thrown off by sketchy or delayed plans from the architects, while the New Haven, Conn., firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects griped to arts center officials about contractors' inefficient building methods, according to the suit.

Additional litigation is anticipated.

Suing to recoup cost overruns is the "fiscally responsible" thing to do, said arts center President Terrence Dwyer on Wednesday.

Despite the suit, he said the concert hall is not a disappointment.

"The center, and I believe the community, is extremely pleased with the quality of the hall's design and construction," Dwyer said. "It's a very complex project, and this is not an unusual thing to have happen."

The defendants declined to comment on the suit.

"We'll just wait for everything to play out," said Fluor spokesman Keith Stephens. "We're very proud of the work we've done there, and we've received awards. . . and recognition within the industry."

Pelli's partner, Fred Clarke, said by e-mail, "It is not our policy to comment on this sort of thing."

Dwyer said the suit does not affect the center's campaign to pay off the hall's construction debt, which remains $63.5 million short of its $240 million goal. The center expects to raise all that money from donors, he said, rather than banking on proceeds from a legal judgment or settlement.

He added that he doubts the lawsuit will dissuade prospective donors.

"You would like to have nothing but straightforward good news, but we believe this is the responsible thing to do," he said. "We are confident the community and potential supporters will understand that."

When Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in Los Angeles four years ago, multiple suits over who was to blame for cost overruns had already been filed. The mammoth case was settled last year, with the hall's parent corporation and architect Frank Gehry's insurers paying almost $18 million to contractors.

mike.boehm@latimes.com

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