Fort Worth

Fort Worth police group feels ‘duped’ by contractor over stalled building project

Artist renderings of the proposed Fort Worth Police Officers Association building, which was to be built at 10th and Collier streets in downtown Fort Worth.
Artist renderings of the proposed Fort Worth Police Officers Association building, which was to be built at 10th and Collier streets in downtown Fort Worth. Courtesy photo

Mantford Hawkins roams the stage during a speech at Southern Methodist University, much like the late Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs.

Wearing an untucked blue shirt and jeans, his bald head shining, Hawkins speaks prophetically during the October 2015 TEDx Talk event about structures that make more energy than they use. In particular, he praises the Fort Worth Police Officers Association for wanting to build such a place near the central business district.

With an artist rendering of a shiny, five-story building as a backdrop, Hawkins says the “strong, courageous leaders of this nonprofit” are “giving their officers a better place as a destination by taking a chance to do something different, bucking the system. Not complying with the status quo.”

Ironically, as Hawkins gave this presentation, the $4.4 million POA headquarters, which was supposed to be near completion, wasn’t much more than an empty lot surrounded by a chain-link fence.

In court documents filed last month in a lawsuit against Hawkins and his associates at 4D Circle in Fort Worth, attorneys representing the POA say that the company not only miscalculated the building’s size by 10,000 square feet, but it then took more than $1 million the association had paid it and used the money on other projects.

In one instance, the POA alleges, some of the money was used to pay for an associate’s divorce.

“It darn sure ain’t right. If you give people money to build their project you ought to use their money to build their project,” said Chris Lyster, one of the POA’s lawyers. “The police were duped in this thing.”

Last year, when the POA filed its lawsuit, Hawkins declined to comment. Reached last week via email, all Hawkins would say is that “I and all of 4D Circle have no comment at this time.”

Attorney Frank Hill, representing Hawkins and 4D Circle, filed documents denying “each and every, all and singular,” accusations by the POA and demanding “strict proof.”

“They respectfully deny the allegations and I’m not going to say anything more than that,” Hill said.

‘Net zero energy’

For the POA, the new headquarters at 10th and Collier streets was going to be a spectacular replacement for its unassuming, one-level, 9,000-square-foot home. Because the association owned the property free and clear — and made money by renting out space to a tenant — so close to downtown, it wanted to do more.

As it was exploring what to do, the POA was approached by Hawkins and others at 4D Circle — then known as Enoetics — about designing, developing and constructing a “net zero energy” structure, or one that the National Institute of Building Sciences says produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.

The building would have four floors of office space for the association, training space and a gym. The street level was supposed to have 3,500 square feet of retail space.

Hawkins’ team presented itself as a group of architects, engineers and subcontrators with the “skill and experience to design and construct the proposed building.” It told the POA that by leasing the extra space — it already had a list of proposed tenants — the headquarters would pay for itself, the lawsuit states.

4D Circle would construct the building for $4.4 million, including the soft/carrying costs during the construction process such as architectural and engineering fees, and the structure would be built in less than a year, including the time to demolish the old headquarters, records show. The company also agreed to provide a performance bond protecting the POA from any additional expense.

“The FWPOA was essentially told that they couldn’t lose if they chose 4DC,” the lawsuit states.

4D Circle was vetted by the POA, Lyster said, and in the TEDx Talk video, Hawkins says most of his team had military and law enforcement experience. On the company’s website, Hawkins is listed as having graduated from the Citadel, with experience leading projects worth as much as $5 billion and international in scale.

“They did check them out. These guys are very effective,” Lyster said. “But they were clearly misled.”

Based on these promises, the POA signed a “fixed price” contract with 4D Circle in late 2014 with work scheduled to begin in early 2015. Work was to be done in phases, with payment made upon completion of each stage. To get things off the ground, the POA paid 4D Circle $1 million up front.

Multimillion shortfall

The old headquarters at 904 Collier St. was torn down and site work was done, including some electrical and plumbing, Lyster said. But soon, the project fell behind schedule.

Eventually it was discovered that a person portrayed to them as one of the architects for the project, Abraham Achar, was “simply not an architect” and that the plans his company, International Business Systems, provided could not be used for construction, “putting the project far behind from the beginning,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit further accuses Achar of using the $200,000 he received for the project to pay for his divorce. An attorney representing Achar has filed documents denying the allegations against his client.

After a licensed architect was hired, it was discovered that the building Achar and others designed contained 43,000 square feet, or about 10,000 more than the POA agreed to. An experienced New York project supervisor brought on board found that 4D Circle and others not only grossly underbid the POA headquarters, but had an “utter and complete lack of experience and ability” for the job, the lawsuit states.

When the project supervisor brought these problems to the attention of 4D Circle, he was told not to tell the POA and to blame the delays, in one way or another, on the city of Fort Worth, the lawsuit said.

“In reality, they were out of money. They had spent the money on something else and were waiting on the next deal to bring them more money,” Lyster said.

4D Circle does have a number of other projects, according to court records and Hawkins’ presentation at SMU. Many are commercial buildings on Fort Worth’s near east side, including The Lancaster Apartments at 5200 E. Lancaster. Lyster’s lawsuit said much of the money went to those projects.

In time, 4D Circle and Hawkins admitted to the subcontractor that the building was going to cost more, but that they planned to cover the “multimillion-dollar shortfall” by selling memorial pavers or reaching out to a wealthy investor to sell them naming rights to the building, court records show.

Since 4D Circle did not “come clean” about the project’s problems, the POA got in deeper financially and eventually secured a construction loan for the entire $4.4 million, lawsuit says. By May 2016, the POA also approved a $190,000 “soft cost advance” in hopes of getting the building back on track.

Nothing much happened. By the time the POA filed its lawsuit in September 2016, it was out nearly $1.2 million with “nothing to show for it beyond the property where their building once stood, now vacant and without a building at all,” the lawsuit states.

The POA is seeking cancellation of the contract, a return of its $1.2 million investment, reimbursement for rent it has had to pay since the demolition of its old building, and the loss of income it would have realized from the five-story headquarters. In the lawsuit, the POA accuses 4D Circle of fraud.

“The police contracted to have this building built, soft and hard costs, for about $4.5 million and that is the building they want. ... They want that building built,” Lyster said. “It is not where they envisioned they would be, that is for sure.”

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB