Part of Pittsburgh Convention Center Floor Collapses; Auto Show Canceled

DARLENE GUDEA, VP, PUBLISHER & EDITOR & HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Pittsburgh, PA – As the move-out of the boat show and move-in of the auto show was underway on Monday at the David Lawrence Convention Center, the floor gave way under the weight of a 48-ft. truck, sending concrete and equipment crashing to a walkway below. The driver of the truck, an employee of Freeman, was shaken up  but he was not injured nor was anyone hurt in the street below.

The collapse occured on a second-floor loading dock in the tunnel that separates the two sections of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The second floor of the center is rated for loads up to 350 lbs. per square foot. The truck, which was partially filled with Freeman’s equipment to move in The Pittsburgh International Auto Show, ended up suspended across the 20’x60’ hole. No freight for clients was in the truck. An unoccupied cherry-picker fell through the hole.

The mishap forced the cancellation of the auto show and threw other future events into limbo. Officials at the Sports & Exhibition Authority, the agency that owns the convention center, were unable to give the auto show staff official access in a timely fashion, so set-up could not proceed as planned. The show was scheduled to open this Saturday, Feb. 10 and run through Sunday, Feb. 18. Organizers offered to refund ticket purchases. “We are saddened that the auto show will not be able to take place at this time,” said Denise Brennan,  executive vice president and CEO of  Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association. “Safety is of course our primary concern.  Unfortunately, building officials needed more time to assess the situation, and we just ran out of time.”  The only other venues in the Pittsburgh area large enough to host the auto show, Mellon Arena and the Pittsburgh Expo Mart, are booked for events during the auto show’s scheduled two-week run. The association is evaluating options to possibly hold  the show this Spring.

A team of experts was looking into the cause and the extent of the damage. There was no immediate estimate on how soon the hole could be patched and whether there had been any impact on the integrity of the floor itself.

“The prevailing wisdom right now is that this is not connected to any other structural issues in the building,” said Bob McClintock, senior regional vice president for SMG, the operators of the convention center.

Representatives of the companies that designed and built the $370 million convention center were brought in to check the extent of the damage and figure out what repairs that would be required. The group included the architect, Rafael Vinoly Architects; the structural engineer, Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners; the construction manager, Turner/PJDick/ATS; and the steel contractor, ADF Group Inc. The city also retained an independent engineering firm to vet the findings of the investigation.

The building has faced structural challenges in the past. The Pittsburgh-Tribune Review reported that construction was delayed in November 2001 when engineers learned that 18 misaligned portions of the foundation had shifted.  The newspaper also reported that on Feb. 12, 2002, a 150-ton steel truss fell, killing one ironworker and injuring two others.  Investigators said the truss had been secured with nuts too small and weak to hold its weight.

Mark Leahy, the SMG general manager at the convention center, was maintaining “constant contact” with show organizers to keep them updated, McClintock said.

Reach Mark Leahy at (412) 325-6150 or mleahy@pittsburghcc.com. Denise Brennan, CEO of the The Pittsburgh International Auto Show , at (412) 963-8909 or dbrennan@pittsburghauto.org