No Second Shot: Saying Goodbye to the Leaning Tower of South Padre Island

Here’s a little drive-by tour with expert commentary on the lost and leaning Ocean Tower on South Padre Island, slated for implosion this Sunday at 9 a.m. The condo tower has supposed to have 31 levels, but accumulated many more stories: Construction was halted last year after one side of the building sunk more than 14 inches into the sand.

Three months after topping out the tower last spring, developer Antun Domit sent a letter to buyers noting that a problem of “differential settlement” had occurred:

Unfortunately, there is a layer or stratum of which the engineers tell us is “expandable clay”, meaning that it is a clay stratum that compresses [when] weight is placed upon it. Although our foundation is engineered to a depth above that stratum, the weight pressing on the stratum has caused sinking of the building on it.

But there’s a fix for that!


Contractors could separate the main tower from the parking garage, Domit wrote, adding additional support to the foundation. But:

This creates both a construction issue and a safety issue. Until the differential settling is corrected, if workers are too near a column when it cracks, physical injury could result. In addition, in the unlikely event of a total failure, workers and neighboring structures could be catastrophically affected. For this reason, all work has ceased on the tower, and a complete shoring (the bracing of columns) project is being scheduled. . . .

Despite trick photography in the newspapers, this is not “the Leaning Tower of Padre”.

In response, South Padre Realtor Alice Donahue updated her website with these words of encouragement:

very good news for the Ocean Tower project – the building will be safer and stronger than ever, just delayed . . .

We see this as a great opportunity to get a bargain right now on what will become the finest quality built tower – in the best location – on South Padre Island. The views and amenities are unmatched, and the units are the some of the largest on the Island. Make your offer contingent on the problem being fixed, the building permit issued and as always – get legal advice.

A rare opportunity to take advantage of the insurance and investment companies losses and their desire to regain momentum. . . .

And even if the worse was to be, and they had to start over, how many buildings of this magnitude get a second shot? What they learned from 1st try, would prove invaluable for the re-build.

Want a few lingering last views of the tower, before it’s blasted into little bits?

21 Comment

  • I see a lawsuit in the geotechincal and foundation engineers’ future. I’m glad I didn’t specialize in that area of civil engineering.

    Also, expandable clay is one of the worst things to build on. If the soil boring says you have expandable, then don’t build. If you have to build, you better over design that foundation.

  • Hilarious commentary on the first vid.. who can talk that long ?

  • @ kjb434: I’d read a report from last year stating that the geotechnical study was only performed to the depth of the piers and that the piers bottom out mere inches above a five- or six-foot layer of clay.
    What that *sounds like* to me is that there had to be revisions to the foundation design at some point, perhaps to accomodate a heavier tower than was originally anticipated, and the developer either cheaped out on doing a new geotech study (which would be typical of a McAllen-based “professional”)…either that, or nobody told the developer that not getting a new study was idiotic.

  • Building a structure of this magnitude on a barrier island is a fool’s errand. I expect it’s demolition to be witnessed by throngs of mullet clad simpletons and drunken coeds chanting “Spring Break.”

  • Way to tell it, Lonnie, you’re the best.

  • “And even if the worse was to be, and they had to start over, how many buildings of this magnitude get a second shot? What they learned from 1st try, would prove invaluable for the re-build.”

    Um… yeah. That’s what you want, someone’s second try because they didn’t know how to do it the first time.

  • First video reminds me of The Cleveland Show. More annoying than funny.

    Besides the leaning issue…does anyone else think it’s odd that they would build a the parking garage between the condo tower and the beach?

  • @TheNiche,
    I completely agree. The structural/foundation engineer could lose a license over something like this if the client presses. If this happened after it was finished, they would definitely lose it because the residents’ lives would be at danger.

    @Landed Gent,
    Building tall building like this on a barrier isn’t a complicated concept. The same sand holds up all the skyscrapers in downtown New Orleans plus the bridges that cross the Mississippi River. As long as the investigation into what you have below you is comprehensive enough, you can design to build on it.

  • Worst. Video. Ever. Beyond simply annoying. And how much is that lawsuit again? I’m not quite sure I caught the amount the first 11 times.

  • Landed Gent, are you still breathing? I dread the day I don’t find drunken coeds appealing. Might serve you well to let your inner mullet down and lighten up a bit.

  • Can we get Lonnie a guest commentary section? Please!

  • Mr. Cross,

    Indeed there is a time and place where I find drunken coeds appealling. Rick’s Cabaret, 12pm.

  • Hee! I’m so glad I listened to all 4:49 of that, it was so worth it. I’ve been trying to think of who Lonnie reminds me of, and the best I can come up with is the spawn of Boomhauer/RuPaul.

  • What? expandable clay along the TX gulf-coast? never could’ve imagined such a circumstance!! (sarcasm)
    The 1st video is funny and the 2nd sleep-inducing, but South Padre is so lovely I think all buildings should be prohibited.

  • Why is there a lack of information on who built it and where they are from? Maybe I missed it.

  • The developer was Antun T. Domit d.b.a. Domit Development, who develops single-family subdivisions, apartments, office, and retail. He’s not difficult to track down.
    The GC was San Antonio-based Coastal Constructors Southwest Ventures; the architect was Brownsville-based Walker Perez Associates.

  • The geotech was performed by Raba-Kistner…the GC was dismissed from the lawsuit, according to reports in October.

  • This is not unusual if the geotech’s report/analysis provided the warning’s and concerns about the expandable clays. Some geotech’s make foundation recommendations (depending on scope of services) also. If the engineers didn’t design the foundation to meet the concerns or the geotech’s recommendation, the engineer would take the blame versus the geotech.

    There is another possibility, the construction contractor could also have made alterations to the design without information the engineer and/or the client. Usually this all gets sorted out in the lawsuit. More legal fun.

  • So who insures a $125 million building on a barrier island in a hurricane zone…AIG?

  • Hello, I am a student at the University of North Texas and I am writing a paper about construction processes from design to completion. I have been looking for more information about the engineers involved in the design of the Ocean Tower.
    I will appreciate any help very much