‘Snowmageddon’ halted construction. Now a contractor and Simplot are fighting about it

John Sowell Idaho Statesman//November 8, 2019

‘Snowmageddon’ halted construction. Now a contractor and Simplot are fighting about it

John Sowell Idaho Statesman//November 8, 2019

Construction on JUMP, which is now the subject of conflict between Hoffman Construction and J.R. Simplot Co. Photo by Jeanne Huff

It’s been nearly three years since Snowmageddon struck Boise, piling up a record 15 inches of snow on Jan. 5, 2017. But its effects are still being felt.

Hoffman Construction Co. of America, the general contractor on Jack’s Urban Meeting Place and the adjacent J.R. Simplot Co. headquarters in downtown Boise, is seeking $4.8 million in cost overruns. The Portland building contractor claims it incurred additional expenses because of the abnormal winter storm and other delays caused by Simplot.

Hoffman claims three Simplot companies involved in the projects have refused to reimburse it.

The contractor sought to handle the claims through arbitration by filing an undated claim through the American Arbitration Association. Simplot declined, claiming the companies never agreed to an arbitration provision sought by Hoffman.

In response, the three Simplot companies involved in the building projects, JRS Properties III, JR Simplot Foundation Inc. and SBP LLP, sued in Ada County District Court, seeking an order to prevent the case from going to arbitration.

Hoffman petitioned to have the case moved to U.S. District Court in Boise because it involves companies from two states and the claim sought by the contractor exceeds $75,000. Hoffman has asked a federal judge to dismiss the Simplot companies’ suit.

Hoffman, who built the Seattle Central Library, Seattle Justice Center and Matthew Knight Arena, the basketball arena for the University of Oregon in Eugene, said its Boise projects shut down for 10 days in late January 2017 because of the weather.

A subcontractor determined that accumulations of snow and ice made working conditions dangerous and pulled all but a skeleton crew off the job. Hoffman claims it incurred nearly $73,000 in extra costs that were never reimbursed.

The largest portion of the claim, $3.9 million, concerns the outdoor park that separates the two buildings. Hoffman claims it took Simplot more than a year longer than necessary to complete its design of the park setting, decide on a budget and determine the work needed.

Hoffman claims it also incurred $1.4 million in added engineering costs because of Simplot’s failure to answer requests for information on the projects. Hoffman said it issued 5,510 requests for information, but Simplot took more than the allotted seven days to reply on 3,004 of them. Hoffman said Simplot also delayed its response to 110 design changes.

JUMP construction was impacted by 2017 snowstorms. Photo by Pete Grady

The claims exceed the amount Hoffman sought through arbitration.

“Hoffman values its relationship with the Simplot entities and worked diligently to accommodate Simplot’s changes and evolving designs on the projects,” Seattle attorney Douglas Oles, who represents Hoffman, wrote in the filing with the American Arbitration Association. “As a result, however, Hoffman is entitled to equitable compensation for increased costs.”

The Simplot companies thus far have not admitted or denied the claims for the cost overruns sought by Hoffman. They have focused fighting against having the case settled by arbitration.

The action follows a lawsuit involving another downtown building project affected by Snowmageddon. The Roost, a company formed by Los Angeles and Boise developer Roundhouse (formerly LocalConstruct), sued Andersen Construction Co. for delays in finishing The Fowler, a seven-story apartment building.

The Fowler, with 159 apartments, opened in March 2018, nine months later than scheduled. Andersen, a Portland company with an office in Boise, denied it did anything wrong. It countersued in a case that is ongoing.