Tallest residential building in San Francisco is sinking

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 2:23 PM CDT
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SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) – With its soaring panoramic views and world-class amenities, the Millennium Tower in downtown San Francisco opened to great fanfare in 2009.

At 58 stories, it’s the city’s tallest residential building with over 400 multimillion-dollar units.

Among its early residents was former NFL quarterback and 49ers icon Joe Montana.

“It was billed as one of the Top 10 most-luxurious buildings in the world,” said Frank Jernigan, a former Millennium Tower resident.

“It had its own gym, its own pool, its own theater,” added Andrew Faulk.

Jernigan and Faulk paid more than $4 million for their condo on the 50th floor.

Five years later, they received the troubling news that the high-rise was not only sinking, it was also tilting.

“60 minutes” called its 2017 segment on the building “The Leaning Tower of San Francisco,” and showed the alarming stress gauges and cracks in the building’s basement.

The Millennium’s current engineer, Ronald Hamburger, told CNN the building has now sunk and tilted 18 inches.

After years of lawsuits, hearings and finger-pointing, a retrofit announced last October will anchor the building to bedrock, which, to the derision of critics, had not been done originally.

Instead, the foundation was built into deep sand, experts determined that adjacent projects and a process called dewatering had weakened the soil under the tower, causing it to sink.

The high-profile ordeal may be more relevant in the wake of the Surfside, Florida, condominium catastrophe.

“These people were lying in bed comfortably at night with no warning whatsoever,” said Jernigan. “Our hearts just go out.”

Attorney Niall McCarthy represented about a hundred of the Millennium Tower’s residents who saw their property values plummet.

“We had a high rise that was sinking and tilting,” he said. “It affects people’s peace of mind.”

McCarthy said under an agreed settlement, residents received a significant portion of their losses.

In a statement to CNN, the building’s engineer said, “Any potential comparisons between Surfside and the Millennium Tower would be reckless and premature,” adding that the building was designed with earthquake resistance, remains safe, and is in no danger of collapse.

The $100 million fix is set to be completed next year.

Jernigan and Faulk won’t be there to see its completion.

“We got our suitcases. We put everything in and we left,” Faulk said.

Even with all the problems, people continue to buy and sell units inside the building.

According to the plan, the engineering project underway isn’t designed to repair any of the damage to the Millennium Tower.

Instead, it’s supposed to prevent the building from sinking any further and to recover some of the tilt – about 50% of it over the next couple of decades.

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