JEFFERSON PARISH, La. -- Joe Caldarera, contractor for the Jefferson Parish Performing Arts Center, appeared before the Jefferson Parish Council Wednesday morning to give a special presentation before the council, saying design changes and lack of payments are to blame for the delay in finishing the performing arts center.
The multi-million dollar project has been mired in controversy for years and faced one setback after another as the project cost ballooned.
Caldarera said going through some of 508 changes, of which some were complicated, to the performing arts center forced delays. He said his team corrected over 750 issues with the original design, resulting in over 500 revised drawings.
Caldarera told the council that the fire marshal has been to the site 10 times. "I've never seen anything like that," he said.
Construction on the building has turned into a four-year saga. The project was supposed to be completed in 2009 for $26 million. The price tag for completion has doubled as the project dragged on, and more work on the structure is still needed.
Paul Connick, the parish attorney, recommended a $9.75 million settlement for Caldarera to finish project, but Caldarera wants $3 million more to finish the project.
Caldarera expressed an interest in settling the issue, saying, "Every day that we're on that project costs us money, and they have a limitation as to what they can collect. If we say, 'Look we need to get the full amount.' Every day that we are out there costs us tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars each month."
Faced with large operation costs and a possible lengthy litigation process against the parish, Caldarera said it was in his interest to settle. "You start putting the arithmetic together and taking a sure settlement is certainly a lot better than trying to go to court three years from now and flipping a coin."
“I think if anyone knew 12 years ago when this project started that it was going to morph into the project that it is today, then the likelihood is that we would have not moved forward at all,” Council Chairman Chris Roberts said in April.
Also on the council docket, council members will consider a measure to put Caldarera in default if the current negotiations fall through. The council is considering the maneuver after learning that the state won’t release money to finish the project until construction is completed.
Caldarera, however, saw it different. "We could put you in default," he said, "but we don't want to do that. Pay and the project will be completed."
After finishing his presentation, Caldarera faced questions from the council.
Council member Paul Johnston later told Caldarera, "We don't want to put you in default, but we are frustrated. We just want this thing finished."
President John Young and Connick asked the council defer the vote on the default because the parish and Calderera were close to a deal.
Roberts revealed he learned in executive session last week that Caldarera may have over billed for equipment.