FOX 8 Investigates: JP, contractor feud over Arts Center

The Jefferson Parish Council is considering whether to hold the contractor for the Jefferson Parish Performing Arts Center in default.  But the contractor of the long-delayed project is now threatening to hold the parish in default for non-payment.

FOX 8 has outlined a series of problems with the center, including elevators that don't go all the way to the top and inadequate fire exits, in a number of reports.  Now the contractor is going before the council with his defense.

"The plans have to be accurate and buildable," said Joe Caldarera. "These were not."

The project is already four years behind schedule and nearly $30 million over budget. Council members are now considering whether to hold the contractor in default.

"There's a side to each story.  The most important thing is to get a good agreement to open it up," said Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn.

The contractor says the delays and the cost overruns are not his fault. He says the fault lies with the original architect, who was fired after more than 500 change orders drove up costs.

"There were so many changes to this project they had to be color coded as to what they are," said Caldarera.

Caldarera also says the parish now owes him $10 million, and he says it is he who may have to play hardball. "We could put you in default... we don't want to do that," he said.

The council voted to defer a vote on whether to hold the contractor in default, as they wait for word as to whether the state will come up with its share.

"We will be in a better position to know about funding at the end of the month," said parish attorney Deborah Foshee.

So when will the center, originally set for completion in 2009, actually be finished? Once again, there's wide disagreement.

Parish President John Young said, "Hopefully by the end of this year or early next year, we can open this facility."

But the contractor says it won't be finished until a year after he gets final payment.  "I don't want to commit to a date, because they haven't committed to a timing for the funding," said Caldarera.

The council is now pushing for a $10 million final payment to Caldarera, 60 percent paid for by the state and the rest from paid for by parish taxpayers eager for completion.

The parish says it's close to a settlement with the state over some $3 million being held back because of the dispute with the contractor.  They hope to have an agreement in principle regarding that money by the next council meeting, so that the final phase of the contract can begin.