Miami-Dade County

Miami Heat affiliate sues Arquitectonica over arena construction overruns

A company tied to the Miami Heat waited until Christmas Eve to sue the city’s premier architectural firm over a long-simmering, multimillion-dollar dispute over design and construction of downtown’s AmericanAirlines Arena, which opened its doors 14 years ago.

Basketball Properties Limited, the Heat sister company that manages the Miami-Dade County-owned arena, claimed in its sharply worded lawsuit that Arquitectonica was in over its head when it took on the project — and that the firm appeared more concerned with making a name for itself and racking up fees than with meeting deadlines and sticking to a budget.

Arquitectonica’s “self-aggrandizement turned out to be fiction,” the lawsuit says.

Basketball Properties, which filed its lawsuit Wednesday afternoon in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, wants Arquitectonica to pay millions of dollars to cover cost overruns and years of legal expenses. An attempt to reach the Coconut Grove-based Arquitectonica through its publicist late Wednesday was unsuccessful.

According to the lawsuit, Arquitectonica repeatedly failed to provide building contractors with plans when they were due, forcing construction crews to work overtime and on weekends — on Basketball Properties’ dime — to open the arena by Dec. 31, 1999, as scheduled. That created chaos on the construction site, the suit says, with plans changed on the fly and “millions of dollars of wasted manpower and materials.”

“Workmen would arrive in the field with nothing to do until drawings could be redrawn,” the complaint says. “Thousands of feet of extra ductwork, electrical, plumbing and piping had to be used to work around mistakes.”

Among the costlier mistakes: failing to measure the size of air handling units, which wound up not fitting where they were supposed to under the roof trusses — requiring already constructed walls to be moved and an entirely new duct system to be put in place. The “mistake of inches” cost $1.2 million, the lawsuit says.

The complaint also alleges that Arquitectonica at times appeared more concerned with making the arena look good rather than making it functional. Imported panels were used when domestic ones would have been cheaper. Custom-designed suite doors were missing a key component: a working lock.

And Laurinda Spear, one of the firm’s renown principals, insisted on using seat-cover fabric that the manufacturer warned was not fit for a bustling arena, according to the complaint.

“Within days of the opening of the Arena, the seats began to look weathered and unclean, a condition that only worsened with time,” the suit says. “After little more than one year of use, the seat fabric condition had become deplorable.” Replacing it cost about $800,000.

The Heat paid to build the arena on county-owned land, in exchange for an annual operating subsidy and profit-sharing agreement with Miami-Dade that was rewritten earlier this year.

The arena operator began fighting Arquitectonica shortly after the facility opened. But the protracted dispute has taken years because Basketball Properties had to go through the firm’s insurer, Reliance Insurance of Pennsylvania. Arquitectonica has argued the statute of limitations in the case has expired; the arena operator contends an agreement Arquitectonica entered into during an early arbitration action has kept the case alive.

In a series of decisions since 2010, a Pennsylvania court has ruled that Reliance, Arquitectonica’s insurer, was on the hook for $8.3 million. But so far the insurer, which is in liquidation, has paid only $3.3 million. Basketball Properties wants Arquitectonica to pay the $5 million difference — plus more than $3 million in attorneys’ fees.

However, if the Miami-Dade court were to rule that the Pennsylvania decisions against Reliance are not binding on Arquitectonica, then Basketball Properties wants to go after the firm for what the operator says is the full amount of its damages: more than $17 million.