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Financial Contingencies, "Pay if Paid" Clauses and Takings, Oh My!: The Fallout from the Granby Towers Litigation

In 2004, 515 Granby, LLC proposed a $180.5 million condo development. With 34 stories and 327 units, Granby Towers would be the tallest building in Norfolk and would revitalize the northern part of the city. The following year, the federal government threatened to condemn the property, causing just enough of a delay for the ebbing economic tide to overtake the Granby Tower project and thwart 515 Granby’s ability to secure financing.

Fortunately for 515 Granby, the prime contract with Turner Construction Company had the following language:

This Agreement and any liability and obligations of the Owner…shall be subject to and expressly conditioned upon the closing by the Owner, and the initial funding by its lender, of the construction loan… and Owner shall have no obligation or liability to Construction Manager for any costs for the Construction Phase under this Agreement unless such construction loan closing is completed.

Turner and its subcontractors, who were owed over $13 million for construction on the project, challenged this language in a two-day evidentiary hearing in the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk. In a letter opinion issued by Judge Martin, Judge Martin rejected this challenge, finding that 515 Granby “made great efforts to secure financing for the project,” but was unable to do so due to the current conditions of the credit market. Judge Martin concluded that 515 Granby would have had to pay Turner only if and when it had received initial funding of the construction loan.  For an in-depth look at the court's reasoning, and what you can do if you face such a contractual provision, go to Yes, Virginia, Contract Terms Do Matter:  Financing Term Offers Owner an Escape Hatch, by my colleague, Tim Hughes, guest blogging on Construction Law Musings

Fortunately for Turner, its subcontracts contained the following language:

The obligation of Turner to make a payment under this Agreement, whether a progress or final payment, or for extras or change orders or delays to the Work, is subject to the express condition precedent of payment therefor by the Owner.

One of the subcontractors, Suburban Grading & Utilities, claimed this language was unenforceable. In a second letter opinion, Judge Martin upheld this provision as well, noting that the Supreme Court of Virginia finds “pay if paid” clauses enforceable “where the language of the contract in question is clear on its face.” This language was an unambiguous “pay if paid” clause that Judge Martin had no choice but to uphold, leaving Suburban to eat the costs of $575,928 for labor and materials and another $245,662 for dewatering.  For a great and very timely discussion of this opinion and advice about "pay if paid" clauses, I urge you to read Chris Hill's Construction Law Musings post, Pay if Paid, Pay Attention Subs.

Don’t go away thinking there will be no winners in this debacle! The federal government has since conveniently renewed its desire to condemn the property in order to expand the federal courthouse next door.  It offered a paltry $6.1 million to seize the Granby Tower property, an offer that no one is jumping at yet.  If you’re interested in reading more on this very likely end to the Granby Towers saga, take a look at Harry Minium and Tim McGlone’s recent article in The Virginian-Pilot.  
 

Image by:  Hyunsoo Leo Kim/The Virginian-Pilot