Tropicana Collapse Delays Plans For Another Garage

ATLANTIC CITY – Plans for a $20 million parking garage at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway were put on hold Friday so that designers can analyze the catastrophic collapse at the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority, the expressway operator, delayed issuing a “request for qualifications” from contractors interested in building the 1,600-space garage at the corner of Mississippi and Atlantic avenues, in the city’s Ducktown section.

Kathleen C. Aufschneider, the authority’s chief engineer, said it was prudent to give contractors more time to study the collapse of the Tropicana parking garage before they submit designs for the Ducktown project.

“Until we get more information about what happened and see if there are any lessons that can be learned from this accident, we’re slowing it down,” Aufschneider said.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the top five floors of Tropicana’s 2,400-space parking garage to suddenly collapse Thursday morning, killing four workers in an avalanche of concrete rubble.

Aufschneider was reluctant to predict just how long the authority’s parking facility may be delayed, but said it will be at least a month. Originally, the authority had hoped to award the construction contract next March, with work taking about 10 to 12 months to complete.

The request for qualifications is a key part of the contracting process. It will allow the authority to prequalify construction companies to make sure they have the ability to design and build the project.

The so-called “design-build” method is a streamlined technique that is supposed to save time and money by giving contractors more control of the construction process.

The design-build process differs from traditional contracting in that it combines, rather than separates, responsibility. for the design and construction phases of a project.

“It definitely saves time and gives the experts who are building the garages more control. It also saves money,” Aufschneider said.

The garage is proposed along the city’s main entryway, in the corridor that connects the foot of the expressway with the Boardwalk. It would serve the nearby Boardwalk Hall and the city’s new $76 million retail and entertainment district, known as The Walk.

Although the South Jersey Transportation Authority is delaying its parking project, Park Place Entertainment Corp. intends to move ahead with construction of its proposed $75 million garage in the city’s midtown section.

Wallace Barr, Park Place chief executive officer, said the Tropicana collapse will not affect plans for his company’s 3,200-space, 11-story project on the block bordered by Atlantic, Pacific, Arkansas and Michigan avenues.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for January, with completion by spring 2005. Park Place is now obtaining construction permits for the project.

The garage will serve the Bally’s and Caesars casinos owned by Park Place. It will also provide parking for Atlantic City Medical Center, City Division; The Walk shopping district; and the Pier at Caesars, the $80 million Boardwalk retail and entertainment complex scheduled to open in 2005 at the former Shops on Ocean One mall.

Barr said Park Place has not yet hired a contractor, but explained that the facility will be built differently than the Tropicana garage. Preformed concrete slabs will be erected instead of pouring concrete for the garage decks, as was done for the Tropicana garage.

The collapse occurred while concrete was being poured on the top floors. Investigators will examine whether poured concrete was allowed to settle long enough before cement masons moved on to the next floor of the 10-story garage, authorities said.

The state Department of Community Affairs approves plans for casino parking garages, but it is the city’s responsibility to issue the construction permits and conduct inspections, a DCA spokeswoman said. City engineers and construction officials could not be reached for comment Friday on whether inspections will be done at the existing casino garages.

I think it would be a logical step for everyone to do that,·Aufschneider said of the possibility of inspections at existing garages.

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