Devon Energy files court motion questioning safety of elevators at First National Center

Devon Energy, the largest single tenant at downtown's troubled First National Center, has filed a court motion against the California owners claiming they are failing to maintain elevators and have endangered employees' safety.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: November 18, 2011

Devon Energy Corp., the largest single tenant at downtown's troubled First National Center, has filed a court motion against the California owners claiming they are failing to maintain elevators and have endangered employees' safety.

First National Building LLC, an investment group led by Aaron Yashouafar, chief executive officer of Milbank Real Estate, has been in bankruptcy court for the past year since lenders won a foreclosure motion on the property.

A motion filed in the case in Western District U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Thursday alleges elevators frequently stop between floors, leading Devon's employees to either climb out or jump down to exit the elevators; elevators often close while passengers are exiting or entering the cabs, and they fail to release when contact is made with passengers.

The motion also alleges passengers have been trapped in elevators for long periods, and that on July 5 every passenger elevator in the east tower ceased working for “an extended period of time.”

Emily Dobson-Timm, senior property manager at First National, said the motion would be reviewed. She said the building's owners have had a service contract with Schindler Elevator Co. since 2007. She said she has been informed by Schindler the company also services elevators at Devon's headquarters, 20 N Broadway.

“We've been inspected by the city of Oklahoma City and Schindler,” Dobson-Timm said. “They indicated they found nothing that is of concern.”

Chris Kirt, legal counsel for Devon, said the company has dealt with continuous breakdowns of the elevators in the east tower and that three elevators have been shut down for several years. He said Devon's concerns are primarily with the elevators.

In the motion, Devon cites cases when elevator cars jolted when coming to a stop, momentarily remaining motionless, and then jolting again.

“This second jolt throws exiting passengers off-balance because they are in mid-step,” the motion states. Also, “elevators remain on the first floor, rapidly opening and shutting their doors. Employees are forced to rush through the doors to escape.”

The motion gives the building's owners 15 days to address the concerns or face a request for the court to potentially let Devon subtract the costs of any inspections and repairs from its lease.

“Our day-to-day issues, like toilets not flushing, we get a prompt response,” Kirt said. “But the problem with the elevator situation is that it hints at a pretty big issue with the building. We want to gather more information and put ourselves at peace as best as we can. We certainly don't want to wait for inspections until March.”

Devon started leasing space in 2002 and now leases eight floors of the east tower and a couple of floors in the center building of the complex. Kirt estimated the company's lease accounts for about half of the rented space in the 1 million-square-foot complex. The lease is set to expire in 2013, but Devon's operations will make a full move to its new headquarters at 333 W Sheridan Ave. by mid-2012.


by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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