Polk County to sue Iowa Events Center architect

Source: http://www.desmoinesregister.com, April 15, 2011
By: Jason Pulliam

Polk County leaders plan to sue the architect of the Iowa Events Center for breach of contract and alleged design problems that caused the county to pay some $5 million to settle claims filed by contractors who worked on the project.

Members of the Polk County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 this week to file the lawsuit against HOK Sport, the architecture and design firm the county selected in 2000 for the highly touted, $218 million project.

After the events center’s 2005 opening in downtown Des Moines, the county spent several years negotiating about 15 settlements with prime contractors who claimed they were owed more money for their work. Those settlements cost the county approximately $5 million combined.

During the negotiations, a theme emerged that problems with the events center design caused contractors to have to do things twice, or do work that was not in the original plans, among other issues, said Ed Remsburg, an attorney with the Des Moines law firm Ahlers & Cooney, P.C.

Remsburg represented the county during those settlements and will handle the lawsuit that he expects to file against HOK within the next few weeks.

“The county will be seeking to recover some of the damages, or expenses the county had to pay other contractors as a result of what we will claim to be HOK’s breach of contract,” Remsburg said.

The firm provided the county with contract documents for the events center “that lacked coordination and completion and had conflicts, errors and omissions in the design drawings,” he added.

Thus far, Ahlers & Cooney has been paid $33,917 to represent the county on problems related to the Iowa Events Center construction.

HOK, which also designed the United Center in Chicago and Sec Taylor Stadium, is now known as Populous, a firm that has a dozen offices around the globe. A phone message left Thursday at the group’s Kansas City office was not immediately returned.

HOK was paid $18,565,130 for architectural and design services on the Iowa Events Center, comprised of Wells Fargo Arena, Hy-Vee Hall and Veterans Memorial Auditorium. There are no known structural problems with any of the three buildings, said Sue Elliott, a project manager for the Polk County Board of Supervisors.

Angela Connolly and Robert Brownell are the only current Polk County supervisors who were on the board when the events center project started. Both declined to comment on the forthcoming lawsuit against HOK/Populous, citing advice from county attorneys.

The litigation is not related to a $42 million overhaul of Veterans auditorium that started recently.

Remsburg said attempts to negotiate a settlement with HOK/Populous were unsuccessful.

“Polk County was interested in sitting down with HOK to discuss this matter, but we weren’t able to do that,” Remsburg said. “I just couldn’t get them to commit to a time to attempt to settle it.”

County officials believe they need to take action before June to avoid a statute of limitations on breach-of-contract claims in Iowa, he added.

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