Surfside Tragedy Heightens Concerns About Multiple Buildings In South Florida And California’s Bay Area

Millennium Tower (Wikipedia Commons)

Last month, Champlain Towers South — a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Florida — partially collapsed. As of July 12, Miami Herald reported 90 confirmed deaths and dozens unaccounted for.

This tragedy has now prompted a close examination of at least three other buildings in Florida:

  1. Bal Harbour 101. Residents at this South Florida complex are increasingly worried that their homes could also be in danger after an inspector cited “cracks, water penetration, spalling (flaking of concrete) and corrosion” (h/t New York Times). Those were the same issues inspectors had recorded at Champlain Towers prior to the collapse there.
  2. Crestview Towers. This North Miami Beach complex, just seven miles from the Surfside incident, residents had just hours to recover their belongings and evacuate ahead of long-delayed repairs.
  3. Images Condominiums. In Osceola County, officials said 72 units spanning multiple buildings at Images Condominiums in Kissimmee were declared unsafe (about 20 miles south of Orlando).

This heightened scrutiny is not exclusive to Florida. The Bay Area has grabbed headlines in recent years due to the concerns surrounding the Millennium Tower on Mission Street.

With its panoramic views and high-end amenities, the 58-story tower was touted as San Francisco’s highest residential building in 2009 and offered units that cost multi-million dollars.

Today it’s a different — and grim — scenario. Over the past 12 years, Millennium has applied so much pressure on the ground below that it dipped 18 inches into the soil.

Homeowners filed one lawsuit after another, and efforts are currently underway to also prevent it from tilting.

And it’s far from the only tower putting excess pressure on the land beneath it. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, “the entire Bay Area is plunging downward under the weight of its own sprawl.”

Among the buildings mentioned:

9) The Standard Oil Building — This steel-framed tower was built in 1922 and is considered one of the largest stand-alone office buildings in San Francisco. 225 Bush St. served as the headquarters of Standard Oil (now known as Chevron) for more than 50 years. Other noteworthy tenants include: Blue Shield of California, Wells Fargo Bank, Lithium Technologies Inc., Groupon, Zillow and video-game streaming company Twitch.

8) Market Center Tower — 575 Market Street is a 40-story building completed in 1975. It’s the taller of the two towers that make up Market Center — the other being 555 Market Street, which rises 22 stories and was completed in 1964.

7) One Market Plaza — A complex of three office buildings at 1 Market Street, along the San Francisco Embarcadero, was renovated in 1996 by the architect firm César Pelli & Associates Architects. In Spring 2014 a new renovation began, which was completed in 2016.

6) 44 Montgomery — This 43-story landmark high-rise was designed by renowned architect John Graham. It touts a combination of classic architecture, modern design, and peerless views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

5) One Rincon Hill — Known as 425 First St., this two-building luxury condominium high-rise project has water tanks atop the building to help prevent sway. As the wind moves the building one way, the motion of the water in the tanks flows in the other direction. This causes the building to move less and the inhabitants feel less sway.

4) Salesforce Tower — This monolith at 415 Mission St. was built “to stand for two centuries or more,” SFGate notes. But it’s essentially empty. Employees of its largest tenant, Salesforce, no longer occupy the structure’s 714,000 square feet of office space.

3) 101 California St. — This 48-story office skyscraper was completed in 1982 and helps define San Francisco’s Financial District. It’s known for its cylindrical structure and was designed by Philip Johnson, John Burgee, Eli Attia Architects, and Kendall/Heaton Associates Inc.

2) 345 California Center — This Financial District tower, also 48-stories, was completed in 1986. It was developed by Norland Properties, a private real estate investment firm led by Hany Ben-Halim.

1) 555 California St. — Formerly known as Bank of America Center, this tower rises 52 stories. As of February 20121, it is the fourth tallest building in San Francisco.

Why Does It Matter?

Residents’ lives can be at stake if land subsidence isn’t taken seriously, or overlooked entirely during a building’s technical recertification.

In the case of the Champlain Towers, reports from the 1990s showed signs of land subsidence in the surrounding area. But a more recent engineer certification report, which the condo board relied on, only covered things like HVAC system; electrical systems; plumbing; and a roof in need of repair (h/t CNN).

“No one ever said there were any signs of repairs that were needed immediately,” according to former Champlain property manager Alexandria Santamaria. “Or that there were any signs of collapsing.”

Owners and tenants, take heed: If you’re anxious over the recent slew of reports, you have every right to be inquisitive about the health of the structure where you live and/or work.