Developer says Aztec Microtel construction has been 'bumpier ride' than expected

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Construction of a new Microtel hotel has been marred by problems ranging from the use of substandard material in the framing to sloppy caulking on exterior siding.

But the local developer who has shepherded the project says the problems can be fixed, and the hotel will drive economic development in the area.

After a two-and-a-half month delay, the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham opened on Oct. 4. Located on the south end of Aztec's historic downtown corridor off U.S. Highway 550 in Dillon Industrial Park, the hotel stumbled to the finish line, and many local subcontractors still have not been paid.

Mismanagement by the general contractor, cost overruns and delays, disputed amounts and final paychecks still owed to workers, substandard workmanship by subcontractors and damage to materials from storms in September are among the litany of complaints and complications with the $6 million hotel.

"There were three trouble categories -- the framing, the framing and the framing," said David Pfeffer, a consultant who investigated the construction project on behalf of the developer, Sam Blue, after complaints over the project surfaced.

"The first important part of a project is the foundation first and the framework second. The work on the framing was done by people who were not qualified to do the work, used substandard materials and caused delays and many problems that have led to added costs and complications. In some ways, the place should be gutted, in my opinion, but I leave that up to the bigwigs and head honchos to determine."

Pfeffer, nor Blue who owns the industrial park, would name the subcontractor responsible for the framing, citing legal constraints from pending litigation, but Pfeffer said the shoddy work caused an assembly-line-like back-up, leaving many subcontractors unable to complete work or have work performed removed and redone. Areas and portions of the hotel's framing will need to be revamped, Pfeffer said, adding that the building was given a certificate of occupancy by San Juan County inspectors.

"It's disappointing," Blue said. "We try to anchor high-end clients and in $20 million in construction (at Dillon park), we've never had one late bill. I've put a lot of sweat equity in this park and the hotel. Heartbreaking may be too dramatic a word, but emotions are high on this."

Pfeffer shared a copy of the project architect's final "punch list" -- a list of items left for final inspection. It's seven pages of more than 150 items to be corrected or completed. The architect, David Anderson, of FORM Architectural Group, a firm in Oakmont, Penn., submitted the inspection list on Oct. 29, 25 days after the hotel opened its doors.

Warped subfloors, sloppy silicone sealing on granite counters and exterior siding, buckled or defective siding, incorrectly cut ceiling around recessed light fixtures, missing fire ceiling panels, a fireplace gas leak, unpainted walls and doors, gaps between acoustic ceiling tiles, missing exhaust fans, exposed duct work, roof vents covered in duct tape and faulty door locks are among the seven-page document's findings.

Pfeffer estimates the punch list to add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in project overruns.

He also blames Construction Management International, the Florida-based general contractor, for failing to effectively oversee the project and mitigate problems on a day-to-day basis.

"To be honest, how would a group all the way from Florida handle a project all the way across the country?" Pfeffer said. "Apparently they (CMI) had a good track record and met all the approval processes, but that's not what we got. And we paid a large fee to ensure quality and the job done on time."

Repeated calls over two weeks to the offices of CMI and to its vice president, Reginald Turmulo, were not returned.

And subcontractors have been waiting for months to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars they are owed.

Richard Gerding, a Farmington lawyer, was hired to ensure all the remaining subcontractors get paid.

"I was hired as a mediator (between CMI and the workers) and am currently gathering funds in a trust account," Gerding said. "Hopefully, we can take care of all the subs and put this behind us. I have contacted everyone to my knowledge who's owed money."

After learning of one subcontractor whose home cleaning business folded after not seeing pay for clean-up work at the hotel, Blue contacted her and offered to help.

"I don't accept that as collateral damage," Blue said. "I'll see if I can help outside of mediation."

At Blue's request, Pfeffer mailed the small business owner a check on Thursday, Pfeffer said.

"This is the difference between so many others and Sam," Pfeffer said. "For Sam, this park, this hotel, it's more heart than money. This is about the community that he calls home."

Blue, who jokes that he is both the developer and janitor of the project, worked a backhoe to place sandstone boulders throughout the hotel's fire pit and pool area and framed the lobby's fireplace with polished wood from a fallen cedar tree he came across on a hike. He is ultimately optimistic about the hotel he fought to have built in his hometown and the positive impact it will have on the city.

"It's been a bumpier ride than I planned on," Blue said. "It's going to take a lot of cooperation, but it's all fixable."

Aztec City Manager Joshua Ray stayed in the hotel on its opening night with his family. Ray cited a spike in lodgers tax revenue since the hotel opened in October as evidence that the added 70 rooms and national brand has created a large potential for attracting more tourism dollars to Aztec.

"My wife has an incredibly demanding standard for any place we can stay in," Ray said. "We loved our stay here, and it passed my wife's test. We have a lot of faith in (the hotel) and are thrilled it's here. For a city to grow, we need projects like this, or we'll die on the vine. This is one big step forward for Aztec."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.