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Tampa to pay for Straz Center repairs resulting from 9-ton panel's fall

TAMPA — Nothing gets your attention like a 9-ton slab of concrete breaking off your building without warning and falling 30 feet to the ground.

That's what happened just after lunchtime Dec. 12, when a 25-foot-long panel fell from the third level of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

It crashed onto a flower bed outside the lobby for the Carol Morsani Hall, breaking a window and shredding a palm tree on the way down. Stunned, Straz Center administrators, city officials and structural engineers scrambled to determine:

Was anyone hurt? (No.)

Could that night's show go on? (Yes.)

Is this likely to happen again? (No, not once the rest of the panels were lashed in place with steel cables.)

Who's going to pay for this?

That last question took a little discussion.

City Hall owns the building. The nonprofit Straz Center rents it for $100 a year. The Straz typically is expected to pay for repairs and maintenance.

That said, the city this year allocated $586,750 to the center and has $275,000 more for center improvements in its five-year capital plan.

Ultimately, city officials agreed to pick up the cost of the repairs.

"We made a decision to ensure that the building we own is fixed and to utilize our insurance policy to do that," city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said in an email. "The city has a long-standing relationship with the Straz. This is us doing our part to ensure their continued success."

In late March, the city went out for bids to replace the panel that fell and to install steel brackets to reinforce the connections securing other panels to the building.

It received one bid, from Laeqali and Associates of Tampa, for $68,970. That bid is being evaluated, said David Vaughn, the city's director of contract administration.

The panel was a decorative feature, not something key to the structural integrity of the 27-year-old building.

In a report to the Straz Center, the Tampa office of Walter P. Moore and Associates said the panel was attached to the building in four places, but those connections showed weathered concrete and cracks. As a result of the incident and the engineers' evaluation, Straz administrators had steel cables installed to secure the remaining panels to the building as a precaution. Those are still in place.

Though engineers said they believed the other panels on the building had been secured, they recommended installing new steel reinforcements. That's why the repair job includes the steel brackets, officials said.

From the Straz Center's perspective, repair plans have come together smoothly, with city officials seeking the center's opinion at each step.

"We're seeing this eye-to-eye with the city," Straz Center chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard said. "We believe they have the property's best interest in mind and the best interest of the visitors who attend performances here."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Tampa to pay for Straz Center repairs resulting from 9-ton panel's fall 05/04/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2014 9:52pm]
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