Tropicana Casino Parking Garage
Atlantic City, New Jersey - October 30, 2003

Robyn H. Engel, Dustin G. Julius, Laura E. Rakiewicz, and Kaite E. Simmons (Wiki Group 10), AE 210, Spring 2010


At 10:40 a.m. EST on October 30, 2003, part of the Tropicana Casino Parking Garage in Atlantic City, New Jersey crashed to the ground (See Figure #1). As the name suggests, the structure served the purpose of a parking facility for the Tropicana Casino and Resort. The structure was incomplete at the time of the crash, yet had an expected completion date of March the following year. The project began in April of 2002 and its design was composed or various aspect that referenced Old Havana, Cuba. The crash came to a group of unsuspecting workers who were pouring concrete at the time. Of the 300-400 workers at the sight, over 20 were injured and 4 were found dead. Five of the building's ten stories collapsed as a result of a failure to provide adequate temporary supports until the concrete dried. Also, the steel reinforcements in the concrete were not properly anchored to its supporting columns.

Figure #1: Image showing the front facade of the Tropicana Casino Parking Garage after the collapse (Courtesy of the D'Amato Law Firm).


  • Fabi Construction
  • Tropicana
  • Casino
  • Parking Garage
  • Atlantic City
  • hotel
  • shoring
  • rebar


Parking Garage Background

The Tropicana Parking Garage collapse occurred during the construction of the 2,400-space lot (“4 Dead,” 2003, 2). The ten-story garage was part of a thirteen-story structure that included a 502-room hotel (Murphy, 2003, 1)(CTL)(Lipton “Workers,” 2003, 1). The construction included stay-in-place precast, pre-stressed formwork as well as a cast-in-place composite floor system. Cast-in-place columns and sheer walls were connected with mild steel reinforced rebar (CTL). The garage was a partially precast, pour-in-place reinforced concrete structure (Foley 1).

Hotel Expansion

The expansion of the Tropicana hotel was led by the Keating Construction Corporation (Murphy, 2003, 2). The project contractor was Fabi Construction Incorporated of Egg Harbor Township, NJ (Lipton “OSHA,” 2004, 1). The undertaking was intended to evoke images of Old Havana Cuba (“4 Dead,” 2003, 2). Building of the $245 million expansion began in April of 2002 and was expected to be completed in 2004 (“4 Dead,” 2003, 2)(Murphy, 2003, 2).

Design and Later Alterations

The original design was altered during construction, an event that has been pegged as a leading component of the collapse. The original design included 2.5” thick precast concrete panels reinforced with metal wire trusses (Foley 1). Styrofoam blocks were employed to create void spaces in the concrete (Foley 1). Assembly occurred one 44’ bay at a time. The design changes included individual rods of rebar being swapped for factory-made, 8’ mats of rebar (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). Additionally, the beams were made shallower and wider (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2)

Just Before the Collapse

A group of between 300 and 400 workers were on the construction site Thursday October 30th working to pour concrete (Murphy, 2003, 1). Several days earlier, some of the workers had noticed a few issues with some of the construction that had already been completed. There were numerous cracks in some of the recently poured concrete floors and as well as some of the bent vertical poles that supported these floors (Hanley, 2003). These workers made the contractors aware of the dangerous construction flaws, however the issues were ignored (Lipton “OSHA,” 2004, 1).

Figure #2: An axial view of the parking garage showing the top floor as it caved into the other floors yet remained hinged on one side (Courtesy of the D'Amato Law Firm).


Collapsing Details:

A worker was using a crane-mounted hose to pour a 60 feet wide area of concrete floor. At this moment in construction, the supports are under the most intense amount of stress because the wet concrete cannot support itself and it also contains the added weight of the unevaporated water in the concrete. Wet concrete weighs about 160 pounds per square foot (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). Half a dozen metal pogo-stick-like pole devices that temporarily hold up the concrete floors until they harden enough to support themselves had somehow been bent out of shape. This implied that the floors were slightly moving (Lipton “Workers,” 2003, 1). After these poles snapped, after ten o’clock in the morning, the building started to collapse (“4 Dead,” 2003, 1) when a concrete floor on the top level began to fail (See Figure #2). Next, the complex experienced a domino effect. Several precast form works as well some of the composite floors began to fail on multiple levels of the building. In total, five stories of the parking garage collapsed. Only the columns and sheer walls around the perimeter remained standing (CTL). The collapse stopped at fifth floor and the walls below absorbed the force of the collapse (Foley 2).

Structural Failure:

The failure occurred somewhere between the outer walls and the wide slab panels (See Figure #3). The columns failed either at or below the floor being poured. As weight in the building transferred, the remaining column and floor connections sheared on the outer wall, causing a lean-to collapse pattern between the first and second bays (Foley 2).

Figure #3: The front facade of the existing casino complex and the adjacent site of the building failure (Courtesy of the D'Amato Law Firm).

The sources used in this article have been compared and compiled with one another. The article “4 Dead” claimed that the actual time of the crash was 10:30 am EST. The others, including Jarret Murphy’s article “4th Body Found In Garage Collapse,” said that the building fell at 10:40 am EST. The latter is assumed in this article.


The Tropicana Casino Parking Garage collapse could have easily been prevented. Several workers reported the initial splices in some of the concrete floors and columns (Lipton “OSHA,” 2004, 1). The contractors could have paid close attention to these warning signs and investigated the possibility that they could fail. Instead, these signs were merely ignored.


Immediate Consequences

When the garage collapsed, the top floors sloped precariously. (Murphy, 2003, 1) The building shifted a total of 3 inches after the collapse. By the time it had settled enough for rescuers to enter, almost a week had passed. ("4 Dead," 2003, 1) 2 people were immediately found dead, while one was rushed to the hospital where he later passed away. A fourth victim was later found dead on the site. (Murphy, 2003, 1)

Secondary Consequences

The construction company was fined $119,500. These fines included 1 willful and 8 serious violations of safety standards. (Lipton "OSHA," 2004, 1) The Tropicana Casino remained open during and after the parking garage collapse. (Murphy, 2003, 2)

Tropicana Parking Garage Investigation
Violation Summary
Fabi Construction
Formwork not erected, supported, braced and maintained so that it would be capable of supporting without failure all vertical and lateral loads that may reasonably be anticipated to be applied to the formwork.
Fabi Construction
Reinforcing Steel was not properly installed to allow floors to be secured to columns and sheer wall.
Fabi Construction
Shoring plans were not available
Fabi Construction
No inspections of shoring and re-shoring prior to and during concrete pour.
Fabi Construction
Shore heads not in firm contact with foundations and forms.
Fabi Construction
Proper test not performed to determine if concrete gained sufficient strength.
Keating Building Construction
Formwork not erected, supported, braced and maintained so that it would be capable of supporting without failure all vertical and lateral loads that may reasonably be anticipated to be applied to the formwork.
Mitchell Bar Placement
Reinforcing steel and welded wire mesh not properly installed to allow floors to be secured to columns and sheer wall
Site Blauvelt Engineers
Inspectors did not ensure that reinforcing steel was installed properly

Figure #4: Close up of the crumbling levels (Courtesy of the D'Amato Law Firm).


The blame for the failure of the Tropicana Garage has been cast upon many aspects of the building project. The design underwent a series of changes that have been pinpointed as the cause of the failure (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 1). For example, the columns were made smaller and support beams were moved in the design revisions (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). However, Stephen V. DeSimone—a structural engineer—contended that the problem was in the execution of design, not in the design itself (Lipton “Changes,” 2004 1). In the end, OSHA found that the way the construction plan was executed was flawed, essentially causing the collapse (Lipton “OSHA,” 2004, 2).

The issue with the implementation of the design started with faulty installation of the concrete forms. Also, the way prefabricated steel reinforcement rods and an underlying beam in the garage floors were connected to six critical outer vertical columns made it destined to collapse (See Figure #4). Many of the steel connections were insufficient and therefore could not support the weight of the floor (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 1). The rebar mats were not placed far enough into the columns and so they were not anchored securely. This problem occurred on all of the upper floors (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). The horizontal reinforcing steel, or rebar mesh should have been pushed farther into the column. Also, more of these bars should have overlapped with the column line (Lipton “OSHA,” 2004, 2). Another problem dealt with the fact that there were insufficient amounts of shoring or support used to hold up the un-solidified concrete floors. Some of the workers noticed that the shoring was bowing and even cracking but were told to keep working (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2).


Earlier Corporation Failures

The Fabi Construction company had a history of incidence and fatal accidents related to their building endeavors. In June 1995, a worker was moving concrete slabs and fell 100 feet down an elevator shaft because the floor he was standing on collapsed – he died upon impact (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). Again, in October 2002, several workers were injured when a prefabricated concrete panel collapsed (Murphy, 2003 2). On both these occasions, Fabi Construction was issued a series of fines. According to Jim Moran, director of the Philadelphia OSHA branch (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the role of Fabi Construction in the Tropicana incident “…is even more egregious [because] it is a repeat offender. If you are going to keep fining people for killing other people, on its face, that is ridiculous” (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). Although the guilt for this terrible accident should rest with Fabi Construction, the building industry should learn as a whole to value both in mind and in practice human life. A potential industry improvement could be to better regulate construction companies who are repeat offenders in incidents involving fatalities. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this change in practice.

Lessons NOT Learned

To this day, cost effectiveness is one of the top priorities during the design and construction of any building. In the case of the Tropicana Casino Parking Garage, the decision was made to switch from individual rebar rods to rebar mats (Lipton “Changes,” 2004, 2). This option—despite being more cost efficient—inevitably lead, in part, to the collapse. It is highly possible, therefore, that companies after this particular crash, as well as in the future, will make design decisions based more so on cost than on structural soundness and long-term stability.


The Tropicana Casino Parking Garage collapsed on October 30, 2003 at 10:40 EST as a result of poor construction techniques. The top five of the ten stories collapsed due to inadequate temporary supports and improperly anchored steel reinforcements in the concrete. The collapse caused 20 injuries and 4 deaths. Fabi Construction, Keating Building Construction, Mitchell Bar Placement, and Site Blauvelt Engineers were charged with a total of $119,500 in violations. One must balance cost effectiveness against structural stability in order to prevent tragedy. The fact that Fabi Construction had a negative record regarding fatal collapses in the past should have set off a red flag to the client. The design, construction, and eventual collapse of the parking garage collectively prove how important each aspect building a structure really is.


CTL Group. “Tropicana Reinforced Concrete Parking Garage Collapse Evaluation.” <****>.
Although this source is not lengthy, it provides a solid structural overview of the collapse site. It includes the structure, focus, investigative approach, as well as the findings of the analysis. The source company, CTLGroup, was retained to perform an investigation and identify the collapse cause.

Dugan, Kate. (April 29, 2004). "OSHA Regional News Release." US Department of Labor: Office of Public Affairs.
<**** >.

This news release comments on the secondary consequences of the parking garage, including each corporation that was cited for violations and the amount that they were fined.

Foley, James M. “Parking Garage Under Construction Collapses.” Fire Engineering. <>.
Although this article is mainly about the efforts of the fire rescue team after the collapse, it also describes the way the floors fell when building collapsed and the exact location of the garage in Atlantic City. Furthermore it describes the exact way each of the floors of the parking garage were constructed and what happened to cause the structure to collapse.

Hanley, Robert. (November 27, 2003). “Suit Cites Building Flaws in Garage Collapse.” New York Times. <>.
Even as this article is not a technical source, it provides information in regards to the implications of a building failure. It also gives specific facts about the collapse, including that “too few metal bracing poles were in place beneath the 10th floor to support the weight of the fresh concrete.”

Lipton, Eric. (April 25, 2004). “Changes in Design Preceded Collapse of Casino Garage.” New York Times.<****>.
This article is a good resource for facts about the construction components prior to the collapse of the garage. It dictates the changes in the design, including a partial analysis of the amount of reinforcement between the concrete slabs and the columns in the garage.

Lipton, Eric. (April 30, 2004). “OSHA Cites 4 Companies in Parking Garage Collapse.” New York Times. <>.
OSHA concluded that intentional disregard or plain indifference by the main subcontractors of the resort led to the deaths. They were charged close to 100,000 dollars for “willful neglect”. They said that the mistakes made were part of “Engineering 101” and could have been easily avoided.

Lipton, Eric. (November 9, 2003). “Workers Sensed Danger Before Collapse of Parking Garage.” New York Times. <>.
This article shows that signs of the collapse of the parking garage were present when the construction workers were laying the concrete slabs. It also says that there may have been OSHA violations and that workers may not have had the proper training for the job.

Murphy, Jarrett. (October 31, 2003). “4th Body found in Garage Collapse.” CBS News. <>.
In this article, Harold Simmons is interviewed. He was in the building when it collapsed and he says that “It sounded like an earthquake” The whole building was shaking…” The article also says that a fourth body was recovered from the rubble. Stacey Strasky was walking by the building before the collapse when she noticed strange noises coming from the building, but when she notified a security guard, the issue was dismissed.

(October 30, 2003). “4 Dead in N.J. parking garage collapse.” <>.
This article was written shortly after the collapse and states that two people were found dead and two more were found in the rubble. One of the trapped men was able to be rescued, while they were waiting to acquire the other body because the area in which it was located was deemed unstable. When they talked with a woman at Aztar Cop., she did not give them an answer as to if construction would continue on the project.


Photographs of site. <********>.