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Munilla Construction Management, the Miami-based contractor behind the pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Florida International University last year, said it filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, paperwork capturing a steep reversal in fortunes for a company that had been a top builder of local government projects.
MCM said in a press release issued Friday night it would ask a federal judge for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws, which allows companies to negotiate with creditors while reorganizing with hopes of resuming normal business operations. The process should take about six months, an MCM spokesman said.
The family-owned company won the bid from FIU to build a pedestrian bridge over Southwest Eighth Street, and the partially finished structure collapsed on March 15, killing six people.
In the release, MCM suggested it plans to negotiate all claims against the company — including those stemming from the bridge collapse — during the bankruptcy proceedings.
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“Chapter 11 provides the opportunity for all of the claims asserted against the Company, including those arising from the failure of the University City Prosperity Project, to be addressed comprehensively in one forum,” the company said.
MCM is being sued by survivors of the collapse and by families of victims. In the release, MCM said the bankruptcy should not be seen “as an attempt to avoid any responsibility” for the collapse.
Court papers were not available Friday night from MCM’s bankruptcy case, and the release contained no financial information.
Federal investigators have pointed to design flaws that led to cracking on the 174-foot bridge, but the investigation has not yet assigned blame. MCM supervised construction of the structure under the state contract with FIU. The company’s partner in the venture, FIGG Bridge Group, designed the structure.
Both firms are facing civil lawsuits from survivors and families of victims from the collapse.
MCM, with headquarters in South Miami, has thrived on local government contracts. Since 2014, it has won more than $69 million worth of construction work with Miami-Dade County, where the reliable donor to local races has won contracts for projects at PortMiami and Miami International Airport. A county database shows MCM last received a check from the county in May.
MCM has struggled since the collapse. It bid on a county library project in Hialeah Gardens last September, but withdrew it months later. In 2017, Miami-Dade’s mayor and commissioners were helping MCM try to win an $800 million state contract to build Miami’s new “signature bridge” over I-395. MCM and FIGG, its partner in that project too, abandoned the effort after the FIU collapse.
MCM partner Pedro Munilla sat two rows back in the reserved section of Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s State of the County address on Jan. 31. Gimenez’s wife, Lourdes, is related to the Munilla family, and one of the mayor’s sons has lobbied for MCM.
Asked after the address to describe the financial state of MCM, Munilla replied: “We’re devastated. … We haven’t been able to bid for nine months.”
The company was founded by the sons of a top bridge builder in pre-Castro Cuba. The Munilla brothers came to the United States under the Pedro Pan program for unaccompanied children, and they landed in an Ohio orphanage in a trip that began days before the Bay of Pigs invasion, according to the company’s website.
Fernando Munilla eventually joined his children in the United States, setting up a construction firm in Miami. That company led to the founding of MCM in the 1980s, and the firm succeeded in major government contracts in Miami and beyond.
In 2016, MCM won a $63 million Defense Department contract to build a school at the U.S. military base in Guantánamo, Cuba.
Friday’s release said MCM continues to operate, and says it has secured about $18 million in cash to finish existing construction contracts.
“MCM’s doors are open, and the company continues to conduct business as it navigates this process,” President Jorge Munilla said in the release. “As always, our management team and employees remain focused on doing great work for our valued customers. The reorganization will have minimal impact on operations.”