Towering Infirmo: Florida Condo Tower Might Fail in Hurricane

Mid-rise and high-rise buildings are typically tough enough to face hurricane-force winds. That does not appear to be the case, however, for the 15-story Dolphin Towers, located on South Gulfstream Avenue in Sarasota, Fla. The troubled bayfront building has been empty since July, 2010, when city officials ordered residents out after cracks were detected in a fourth-story slab. Now, a report by TRC Worldwide Engineering, Inc., says the structure "is not capable of resisting a major hurricane event as prescribed by code without extensive damage," according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (" Hurricane risks for Dolphin Tower ," by Michael Pollick). TRC's report can be viewed online here (" http://www.heraldtribune.com/assets/pdf/SH24336119.PDF "). Condos in the building, which once sold for $270,000, are now going to investors for $25,000, the Herald-Tribune reported in December (" Dolphin Towers condo prices falling€¦to $25,000 ," by Michael Braga). "Since the concrete problems were discovered, the cost estimates to make the building safe have climbed, with each higher estimate making it more likely the 101 S. Gulfstream Ave. building might be demolished rather than rehabilitated," the paper reports. "The first estimate owners heard after the city ordered a building evacuation for safety purposes was $3 million. At the time, residents were told to expect to be out of the tower just three months." Cost to fix the bad concrete is now pegged at $18 million.

Repair proposals up to now have focused on the problem of gravity loads. Lateral forces applied by hurricane-force winds could be a bigger problem. But homeowners' association president Charlotte Ryan said she thinks repairing the slab is the first priority. ""We have been aware all along that we would have to strengthen the outer walls for a level-two or -three hurricane," Ryan told the Herald-Tribune. But she said that the board believes that problem can be dealt with after residents move back into the tower.