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The leaning tower of San Francisco: The $350 million luxury high-rise Millennium Tower is SINKING
24 October 2016

The Millennium Tower, which stands 58-stories high, has been dubbed the ‘leaning tower of San Francisco’ after the multi-million building began to sink (independent soil engineers install data collection devices and obtain soil samples outside the tower for analysis). Even more worryingly, the tower has begun to tilt – with a six-inch lean at the top of the building. And engineers hired to assess the problem say it shows no immediate sign of stopping.

Stress gauges are placed along a wall with floor-to-ceiling cracks in the parking garage of the Millennium Tower in San Francisco. The tower has sunk 16 inches into the soft soil and landfill of San Francisco’s crowded financial district. But it’s not sinking evenly, which has created a 2-inch tilt at the base – and a roughly 6-inch lean at the top.

Public scandal

Several documents involving the downtown building were leaked in recent weeks, including exchanges between the city’s Department of Building Inspection and Millennium Partners, the developer.

They show both sides knew the building was sinking more than anticipated before it opened in late 2009, but neither made that information public.

Ccertified engineering geologist Andrew Mead, right, examines soil samples taken outside the Millennium Tower on September 26. ‘When is this building going to stop sinking?’ asks Jerry Dodson, an attorney and engineer who paid $2.1 million in 2009 for his two-bedroom apartment on the 42nd floor. ‘That’s something that no one has been able to answer.’

Jerry Dodson and his wife Pat stand inside their home on the 42nd floor of the Millennium Tower in San Francisco which has begun to lean. The geotechnical engineer leading the operation, Pat Shires, said existing data indicates the tower ‘might’ sink between 24 to 31 inches in total, but nobody knows for sure.

Homeowner Jerry Dodson, 69, talks with reporters outside the Millennium Tower. Dodson is one of many angry residents who fear their investments are sinking along with the tower, and more immediately fear for their safety. Dodson and other residents blame developers for what they say is a flawed design. The tower’s foundation, for instance, uses piles driven 60 to 90 feet into landfill, rather than the pricier option of going down at least 240 feet to bedrock.

Sold out

When the Millennium Tower opened, it became a haven for the city’s well-heeled, and all 419 apartments quickly sold out. Tenants have included former San Francisco 49er Joe Montana, late venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Giants outfielder Hunter Pence.

The building has a 75-foot indoor lap-pool, a health club and spa, an in-house cinema, and a restaurant and wine bar run by celebrity chef Michael Mina. Penthouses have sold for more than $10 million.

It has continued to sink at a rate of about 1 inch per year.