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Foes in Broad museum lawsuit agree to build now, fight later

Foes in Broad museum lawsuit agree to build now, fight later
Eli Broad at a September 2013 tour inside his Broad Collection museum. In May the museum sued a subcontractor, alleging it had delayed the project by at least 15 months and added at least $19.8 million to costs. The opponents have agreed to a legal truce until the building's completion next year. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Combatants in a lawsuit over construction problems at the Broad Collection museum now rising in downtown Los Angeles have decided to keep their work gloves on to finish the project before taking them off to fight over who's to blame for delays and alleged cost overruns.

The Broad contends that problems caused by the subcontractor hired to provide the museum's distinctive concrete and glass exterior drove up costs by at least $19.8 million and set the museum's planned 2014 opening back by at least 15 months.

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A Broad Collection spokesman said this week that the museum on Grand Avenue just south of Walt Disney Concert Hall and across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art is now expected to open sometime in 2015, with no specific date forthcoming until "about six months out from the opening."

"We're making great progress on the Broad and are on schedule to open next year," spokesman Alex Capriotti said by email.

Eli and Edythe Broad are building the $140-million museum to house their contemporary art collection. The Broad, as it is known, sued May 30 in Los Angeles Superior Court, joined by the project's general contractor, Santa Fe Springs-based Matt Construction.

They assert that subcontractor Seele Inc. dithered and demonstrated a lack of skill in designing, fabricating and installing the building's signature architectural features.

Seele had contracted to create the Broad's honeycomb-like exterior concrete "veil" and the glass walls behind it for $29 million. Museum officials have said that despite the problems, the building's appearance will not be compromised.

A "case management statement" filed Sept. 16 sets out a temporary truce of sorts, while making it clear that Seele, an Illinois company with German corporate parents, eventually will bring a multi-million-dollar lawsuit of its own.

In court filings, attorneys for Seele have said the company is "anxious to explore the specious basis of the allegations" raised by the Broad and characterized the museum's suit as an unsubstantiated "laundry list" of undocumented claims.

Seele remains on the job, and the recent statement in the court file said that "the parties have informally agreed that for now the best course for all concerned is to allow the project to progress toward completion with minimum interference by litigation."

The pretrial process of discovery, in which the opposing sides demand, and sometimes bicker over, documents and sworn testimony from the other side to help bolster their case, for now has been "limited … to avoid interference with the project," the report said.

The litigants don't expect the case to go to trial until 2016 at the earliest.

The Broad Collection isn't the first major cultural building project in Southern California to generate a big lawsuit over construction costs; it isn't even the first on its corner.

A lawsuit over cost overruns at Disney Hall was settled three years after the venue's 2003 opening, with contractors receiving additional payments that jacked its cost from $273 million to $288.5 million.

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and its construction contractors tangled in court after Segerstrom Concert Hall opened in 2006, arguing over who was responsible for $37.7 million in overruns that lifted the hall's cost to $240 million. They reached an undisclosed settlement in 2009.

A Feb. 17 hearing has been scheduled in the Broad Collection case, but it will only address preliminary legal issues not related to construction.

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