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Even after Cincinnati’s new TQL Stadium has already hosted games for a Major League Soccer team, the $200 million-plus project is still seeing construction payment problems.

As per an October 27, 2021, lawsuit, general contractor Turner Construction allegedly failed and refused to pay joint venture United-ERMCO in full for its work as an electrical subcontractor on the project. 

It’s not just claiming a small sum, either: Following its completion of work on the stadium, United-ERMCO is seeking “an amount in excess of $5,300,000.00” and is putting forth claims of unjust enrichment, violations of the Prompt Payment Act, and breach of contract against Turner Construction.

Prompt Payment laws apply to construction on federal, state, and private projects. Read everything you need to know about Prompt Payment laws.

According to United-ERMCO, their work stems from a subcontract signed on January 14, 2020, that began as a contract for $17,244,600 in work. However, the project allegedly dealt with a large number of change orders after Turner Construction allegedly “forced” United-ERMCO to accelerate work on the project with the hiring of additional and overtime labor and performing out-of-sequence and out-of-scope work.

The lawsuit claims that United-ERMCO was “disrupted in nearly all phases of the project” — saying that “Even before United-ERMCO was able to begin its work in earnest, significant design changes and value engineering exercises with Turner pushed back the JV’s start on the Project by several months and also caused delays to Turner’s other subcontractors.”

United-ERMCO is citing $1,600,869.69 in prior change orders within the lawsuit, and is adding in an additional $44,492, as Turner Construction has allegedly “failed to sign and/or failed to pay these change orders and change order requests.” As per United-ERMCO, “Turner hindered, obstructed, interfered with, and delayed United-ERMCO’s performance of its work” — leading to “substantial delays and inefficiencies on the Project and incurred additional and unexpected costs in an effort to meet the completion date.” 

Additionally, the joint venture is claiming that it’s owed $250,000 in retainage, bringing its total claimed damages to $5.3 million.

Though normally Turner Construction has a fairly good reputation when it comes to payment — with Levelset’s subcontractor reviews page showing Turner at a payment score of 86/100 — there have been complaints by subcontractors recently.

One subcontractor noted that there can be difficulties that stem from working with Turner Construction, despite the good reputation: “The company is very professional, however they lack the ability to pay on time. They are ALWAYS 90+ (days). If you have worked with them in the past you know you have to be patient with these people. If you have a big project, make sure you read the fine print. Also, they charge YOU a fee to get paid. Make [sure] you add that fee to your bid.”

Before these issues, the project had high expectations from the team owners and from Turner Construction. 

“We are pleased and honored to be a part of this transformative project,” said Turner Construction Vice President and General Manager David Spaulding in 2018 when the company was selected for the project. “Our efforts will be focused on not only constructing a state-of-the-art stadium for this incredible team and their fans, but also creating opportunities and an environment for community engagement and involvement.”

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding noted that the organization was pleased with the partnership, saying that it considered Turner to be “trend-setters [that] have led the recent movement toward fan-centered facilities.”

Workers involved with the project additionally expressed positivity regarding Turner Construction’s work on the project. “I would like to give props to Turner Construction; they’re so professional, and being on their team, it taught me a lot,” said Johnson following the project’s completion. “It taught me how experts in their field come together because it took a lot of people and minds to put this together.”

However, the project had some significant roadblocks prior to completion. In 2020, the project drew headlines after multiple on-site racist incidents caused construction to briefly shut down, with Turner Construction holding anti-bias training sessions and claiming that two workers employed by a subcontractor were permanently removed from the job site.

“We made a decision that anything less than overreaction would be an underreaction,” Turner Construction Vice President David Spaulding said. “We also, as a company, understand it’s not enough just to stop someone from doing it. And that’s why we held a stand down and had almost two hours of training for every single worker on the site — because we also believe that we can move the industry forward if we educate people.”

“Just removing someone from the site and not talking about it isn’t being part of the solution,” Spaulding continued. “It’s just really pushing through it, so we wanted to rewrite the narrative. At our job sites, the No. 1 thing we care about is safety, sending people home every evening. And that’s just not physical safety — it’s also mental safety. They have to be able to come to work to a place of dignity and respect where people treat them well.”

It’s important for contractors to keep an eye on these issues and handle them sensitively. Not only is it important to deal with problems like the TQL Stadium shutdown (events that could theoretically lead to criminal charges), it’s also necessary for businesses to keep an eye on on-site problems that could lead to scheduling delays and ultimately delay payments.