Warnings were filed before the stairwell collapsed and a man was trapped, according to Clearwater records

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CLEARWATER – A welding company began repairs on a parking garage stairwell that collapsed Monday before an application was filed for the work and months after the City of Clearwater determined that the garage was potentially unsafe, according to city records, and needed to be checked by a civil engineer.

The owner of the building never provided a required technical report before the repairs began, as the records show.

In addition, a former maintenance technician who worked for the previous owner told the Tampa Bay Times that he had raised concerns about the deterioration of the building from water damage for years. Engineer Michael Brookhart left the company in 2016 but said he called a Clearwater construction officer in July to reiterate his concerns following the fatal collapse of a residential tower in Surfside.

“When I saw that I was thinking, my God, the parking garage I worked in for eight and a half years,” said Brookhart. “I called the city police and told them the garage was a death trap.”

A stairwell in the garage of a commercial property at 26750 US 19 partially collapsed Monday while at least two construction workers were making repairs, according to Clearwater Fire Rescue. One of the workers, a 23-year-old man, was trapped and is believed to be dead.

The crews used heavy machinery on Tuesday to dismantle the stairwell from the top of the building in order to reach the worker.

Officials have not said what may have caused the collapse or what kind of repairs were made. They did not publish the name of the worker or the company he worked for.

A photo taken by Michael Brookhart showed deteriorating concrete in a parking garage on 26750 U.S. Highway 19 in Clearwater, said Brookhart, who was a maintenance engineer there until 2016. [ Courtesy Michael Brookhart ]

The city received a complaint and inspected the parking garage in early July, according to a case summary report from an inspector with the Clearwater Planning and Development Department. An inspector visited and wrote that parts of the building were showing “signs of deterioration” and that another inspection by a structural engineer was required, the report said.

In mid-July, city officials sent a breach to the building’s owners, asking them to submit a technical safety report. A representative from the owner replied later in July that he had hired a structural engineer and was waiting for the engineer’s schedule to be cleared for an inspection. The city registered with the owners twice in August and October. but the engineer had still not completed the inspection required to begin repairs, according to the case summary report.

The next development in the city’s report is news of a death after the stairwell collapsed.

“I was also told that a welding company had started repairs even though we have not yet received the engineering report and a permit has not yet been applied for,” the inspector wrote in the report.

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The county records indicate that the property was purchased by Plymouth Plaza LLC in November 2020. When asked to comment on the building’s collapse, a company spokesman made a statement on Tuesday Just expressed condolences to the family and promised that the company would further investigate the situation.

The speaker did not respond to additional questions from the Just.

Authorities have cordoned off a parking garage in Clearwater where a construction worker reportedly died Monday afternoon after a stairwell collapsed.
Authorities have cordoned off a parking garage in Clearwater where a construction worker reportedly died Monday afternoon after a stairwell collapsed. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Brookhart said he worked for the property’s former owner, Decade Properties, from 2008 to 2016. A company representative could not be reached on Tuesday.

Brookhart said once he got on the job, and throughout his tenure, he voiced concerns to his manager that concrete could separate from many areas of the five-story garage, exposing rebars in some places.

“I picked up chunks of concrete, probably from about 100 places,” he said.

Brookhart said he also noticed support brackets in the garage were starting to “rust”. He was particularly concerned about the area around the stairwell on the southwest corner of the building, where a large, U-shaped crack had formed around two adjacent parking spaces.

Brookhart said he could see if he looked up from the third level of the garage where the concrete under the fourth level gave, causing that floor to sag up to half an inch.

He said the company had to replace the stairwell door on the third floor after it rusted from exposure to water.

“That’s what this monster created,” he said. “Water is leaking out.”

It’s the same staircase that partially collapsed on Tuesday, he said.

A photo provided by Michael Brookhart shows a crack in the concrete floor on the fourth level of a parking garage on 26750 U.S. Highway 19 in Clearwater, said Brookhart, who worked on the property as a maintenance engineer until 2016.
A photo provided by Michael Brookhart shows a crack in the concrete floor on the fourth level of a parking garage on 26750 U.S. Highway 19 in Clearwater, said Brookhart, who worked on the property as a maintenance engineer until 2016. [ Courtesy Michael Brookhart ]

Brookhart said he contacted a city construction official shortly after the 12-story Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, collapsed on June 24, killing 98 people. He suspects it was his complaint that sparked the inspection of the city of Clearwater in early July.

Zev Freidus, registered as the registered agent of Plymouth LLC, addressed Brookhart’s account in a statement to WFLA, Ch. 8.

“For now, all we can say is that the ex-maintenance technician you are referring to only worked for the previous owner we bought the building from and never for us during the time we owned it,” it says in the statement. “We have not received any communications or concerns from him since our acquisition or during our preliminary investigations.”

Brookhart said he couldn’t understand why the problems with the garage weren’t reported and addressed when the building changed hands.

“I just feel bad because that could have been avoided years ago and I don’t think anyone took it seriously,” he said, “but I did.”

The Times writer Allison Ross contributed to this story.


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