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article imageSan Francisco's Millennium Tower is sinking fast into the muck

By Karen Graham     Oct 24, 2016 in Business
San Francisco - In what's looking more and more like a cover up, the fate of San Francisco's 58-story sleek and ritzy high-rise, Millennium Tower, is heading toward a big court battle after it was discovered the building is sinking and tilting into the soft soil.
The $600 million Millennium Tower is a 58-story, 196.6 meter (645 feet) condominium skyscraper completed in 2009, and located at 301 Mission Street in San Francisco's crowded Financial District.
The late-modernist, blue-grey glass tower was touted as the tallest concrete building in San Francisco when it opened on April 23, 2009, and as the tallest residential building west of the Mississippi River. That designation now belongs to The Austonian in Austin, Texas.
Sleek and beautiful as its graces the San Francisco skyline  the Millennium Tower opened in 2009.
Sleek and beautiful as its graces the San Francisco skyline, the Millennium Tower opened in 2009.
Michael TG/
Besides being the priciest residences on the West Coast, the high-rise features all the amenities someone with money to spare could have, including a 5,500 square-foot Fitness Center, Screening Room, pool and Pool Terrace, Wine Cellar, Tasting Room, Owner’s Lounge, Dining Room, Children’s Playroom and Outdoor Terrace.
Penthouses on the two top floors went for $12 million and succeeding floors, while a bit less expensive, still cost a bundle. Very much a residence for the rich and famous, or nearly so, the sale of suites went fast, and in 2013, the building sold its final unit, generating $750 million in total sales costs.
Something peculiar was happening
About six years ago, well before those final units were sold, some residents began to notice something peculiar was happening. ABC News reports, Pamela Buttery has an apartment on the 57th floor, and while practicing her golf putting, she noticed the ball kept veering off to the same spot in her living room.
No  it s not a gravestone  but the Millennium Tower sign on the South facade.
No, it's not a gravestone, but the Millennium Tower sign on the South facade.
Frank Schulenburg/
This was about the time others living in the sleek tower began to notice little things were wrong, and they had good reason to be concerned. In 2010, when the Transbay Joint Powers Authority hired a consulting firm to determine how the construction of the new Transbay Transit Center right next door would effect the Millennium Towers, they were given some startling news.
The San Francisco Chroniicle reported that according to the consultant’s first report, done two years after the Millennium Tower was completed, the building had already sunk 10 inches. And that was four more inches than the architects had predicted for the life of the building.
Worst kept secret in town
Since that time, “the building has continued to settle vertically, now 16 inches,” representatives of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority said in a statement in response to questions from The Chronicle. Additionally, geotechnical calculations show the sinking is not even, with there being a two-inch tilt at the base and a six-inch lean at the top.
This is a picture of the Millennium Tower under construction in June 2006.
This is a picture of the Millennium Tower under construction in June 2006.
Hydrogen Iodide/
What is now getting interesting, especially after several documents were leaked to the press, is that the city's Department of Building Inspection and Millennium Partners, the developer both knew the building was sinking, even before the official opening in 2009, but they decided to keep that information from the public. Now, isn't that the worst kept secret in town?
"When is this building going to stop sinking?" asks Jerry Dodson, an attorney, and engineer who paid $2.1 million in 2009 for his two-bedroom apartment on the 42nd floor. "That's something that no one has been able to answer." The damage is particularly evident in the five-floor underground garage, where Porsches and Lamborghinis sit in spaces next to walls with floor-to-ceiling cracks, many of them being monitored with stress gauges.
So who is to blame for the mess that San Francisco Magazine is calling “a modern-day La Brea tar pit?" Well, first of all the developers sunk their foundation pilings only 60 to 90 feet into the landfill and soil, instead of going down to the bedrock, about 240 feet. They did this to save money.
A view of the city from one of the  Grand residences.
A view of the city from one of the "Grand residences."
Millennium Towers
But of course, the developers are saying the building is perfectly safe, adding that many San Francisco residences have similar foundations. "We did this building the right way," Chris Jeffries, a founding partner at Millennium Partners, told a news conference. "The building is 100 percent safe."
One resident voiced the concern that everyone living in the building undoubtedly has: "We are all living there and wondering about our safety," said resident, Nina Agabian at a recent City Hall hearing. "We've been told it's going to take years to solve this, and I don't think we have years."
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