Millennium Tower, swanky San Francisco high-rise, sinking

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- A newly built high-rise residential tower in San Francisco's SoMa area may be sinking and shifting, developments that could cost thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars to fix and could pit homeowners  against the city.

The Millennium Tower, located at 301 Mission Street, is reportedly home to several high-profile people, including Joe Montana and San Francisco Giants player Hunter Pence, and units in the modern glass tower range from $1 million to over $10 million. An architectural marvel of glass and concrete, the 58-story  tower offers luxury living for those who can afford it. 

The building was completed in 2008 and has sunk 16 inches and has moved 2 inches to the northwest, according to consultants. Worth magazine has previously said the tower is one of the top 10 residential high-rises in the world.

"It's the tilting that you worry about more than the sinking," said Ashok Vaish, who bought a nearly $2 million, two bedroom condo three years ago. He says there are cracks visible in the basement, which he said he is concerned about. 

But cracks and dips are also visible on the sidewalks in front of the tower. 

"I've seen a lot of surveyors (and) I kind of thought something was up like that," said Mark Weir, who is leasing a condo in the tower. "I'm pretty shocked (and) going to reevaluate my lease maybe."

Builders had predicted the tower would settle about six inches over its lifespan but not 16. The Homeowners Association hired an independent consultant to survey the sinkage, which could translate into a costly real estate legal battle.

Five years ago, KTVU learned that the building was sinking.  Engineers said the building was safe, despite the fact that the tower was anchored over a thick concrete slab with piles driven roughly 80 feet into dense sand. Typically engineers drill piles 200 feet down into bedrock.

The Transit Center Authority said in a statement that had engineers gone 200 feet, "the tower would not be tilting today."

Builders had predicted the tower would settle about six inches over its lifespan but not 16. The Millennium Tower Association, the building's home owner association, hired an independent consultant to survey the building's shifting dimensions. 

"It's kind of like you're buying that brand new Ferrari but it has like a little nick on the fender," said Roh Habibi of Habibi Group at Keller Williams Realty of San Francisco. He said he believes news about the building sinking could impact buyer confidence in the short term.

"So you're buying a beautiful piece of real estate in the most amazing city in the world but now there's a little bit of a blemish because things become taboo," he said. "Once there is a story of the building is sinking, people may think hey, this thing's gonna topple over tomorrow." 

The owners of the $350 million building say the culprit behind the building sinking and shifting is the construction next door of the Transbay Transit Center. The transit center is a $4.5 billion project designed to serve as a hub for mass transit in the south Financial District but planners also hope the finished project will include retail, restaurants and performance spaces.

According to a consulting firm hired by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the tower had already settled 10 inches within two years of its completion, before construction crews ever even broke ground on the transit center.

P.J. Johnston, spokesman for Millennium Partners, which built the tower, told KTVU in a written statement that the transit center has been a negative impact on the luxury high-rise.

"All building settle over time," the statement said. "However, 301 Mission exists in a location where major underground construction work was subsequently performed by others, who were obligated to monitor and protect existing structures, and to mitigate any impacts of their work. 301 Mission has settled more than originally anticipated because it was affected by such subsequent construction by others."

The building HOA said it has hired its own group of consultant to try and figure out what's going on.

"The Association has retained a number of engineering consultants to investigate the causes and long-term impact of these settlement conditions," the group said in a written statement. "Importantly, the Association has been assured that there are currently no short or long-term concerns with regard to building integrity or safety."

The HOA said it is exploring its legal option and could pursue damages from several parties, including the developer, the original design professionals, the original contractors and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

"In any real estate purchase you've got to look at the long term investment and this is a small hiccup," said Maurice Lombardo, who owns a penthouse at Millennium. He has a multimillion dollar one-bedroom unit.

Lombardo said the was not overly concerned about the issue. "I'm not worried at all, I'm sure they'll fix the problem soon," he said.

It was not immediately clear what the building's owner can do to remedy the situation. Experts say pouring cement underneath the building's base and drilling new piles would be extremely costly.

Joe Montana's condo is up for sale. How long it stays on the market may be an indicator of just how seriously people are taking the "sinking" snag.

KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty contributed to this report.