Behind the Build

A look at the construction challenges that threatened to stand in the way of bringing some of 2021’s biggest commercial projects to fruition and how they were conquered.

Construction 01

a global pandemic,
a category 4 hurricane,
supply chain struggles

— these are all challenges essentially every business and endeavor has had to battle over the past few years. But when it comes to some of last year’s most notable completed commercial construction projects, they were only part of the story. Biz New Orleans talked to key players in five of last year’s big standouts to find out a little about the bumps they faced along the road before handing over the keys.

 

Literally Building Around Healthcare Needs

Construction Thibodaux

Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center

Address: 602 N. Acadia Rd., Thibodaux
Owner: Thibodaux Regional Health System
General Contractor: DonahueFavret Contractors
Architect: WHLC Architecture
Cost: $39.2 million
Size: 80,000 square feet
Construction time: Sept. 2019 – Dec. 2021

For DonahueFavret Contractors, constructing Thibodaux Regional Health System’s new state-of-the-art cancer center was a labor of love that ended up having a uniquely challenging delivery.

To begin with, the demolition of the current one-story center had to be conducted while the center’s two linear accelerators (large machines used to treat cancer with radiation) remained in operation.

“For two years we constructed a four-story building on top of these active linear accelerators while they were treating patients,” said Bryan Hodnett, vice president of business development for DonahueFavret. “That meant, among other things, building temporary tunnels to allow safe access while we erected structural steel 50 to 60 feet in the air.”

About a year later, in the midst of the pandemic, the team was again asked to pivot to prioritize healthcare needs.

“During the middle of the cancer center project, the hospital was anticipating a new wave of patients from COVID and told us they needed 30 new ICU beds to meet that demand built in 60 days,” Hodnett said. “That kind of project would typically take eight to nine months…We got the call from the CEO on a Thursday, met with our architecture partner, WHLC Architecture, on Friday and were given a preliminary floorplan. We worked through the weekend with the design team and our trade partners, met with the client on Monday to present the cost and schedule, and mobilized on Tuesday. We completed the project four days ahead of schedule by working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while still working on the ongoing cancer center project, and of course still battling supply chain issues.”

Then, just when the project was about 95% complete, Hurricane Ida hit, bringing extensive damage to the region.

“That was a really scary time, but we were very fortunate,” said Hodnett. “Aside from a couple of roof tiles, the building was unharmed. We were very impressed by how the building performed.”

Hodnett said the finished product features a level of attention to detail that makes him proud.

“It’s truly a one-of-a-kind building in terms of the materials and finishes and the use of natural light throughout is really breathtaking.”

He said that during an early project meeting the hospital’s CEO talked about his experience with a family member battling cancer and the effects that he saw natural light have on her healing process.

“At our jobsite meetings, the CEO would constantly bring up the importance that the project will have on the community and would reiterate the impact cancer can have on our friends and families. His vision was to ensure that the new cancer center was a beacon of hope to the community and to any cancer patients receiving treatment. Our entire project team, from the site managers down to the laborers, understood the importance, and it truly motivated the entire team. It drove us to complete the project on time, even with the global pandemic and devastating hurricane.”

DonahueFavret’s work with Thibodaux Regional has continued. As of early February, the company was wrapping up on the second phase of a sports-and-wellness complex for the health system and had broken ground on an expansion for an operating room.

 


Did You Know?
Formed in 1930, Thibodaux Regional Health System serves the parishes of Lafourche, Terrebonne, Assumption, St. Mary and St. James. In addition to a cancer institute and wellness center, the system includes a wide array of almost 20 different care centers focusing on issues including sleep disorders, weight management, pain, diabetes management and sports medicine.


 

Thinking Outside the Box on Linear Park

Construction Linearpark

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Linear Park

Address: 900 Convention Center Blvd., New Orleans
Owner: Ernest N. Morial Convention Center New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority
General Contractor: Landis Construction
Architect: Manning Architects/Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, Joint Venture
Cost: Contract Value: Approx. $51 million
Size:  34,084 square feet
Construction time:  August 2018 — October 2020

New Orleans’ convention center is in the midst of a $557 million, five-year renovation that includes not just the building, but its surroundings, as well as the construction of a new hotel. The welcome mat to what will be the building’s reinvention was officially laid out with the completion of a 7.5-acre pedestrian park that runs the length of the convention center.

Landis Construction was the winning bid on the project, which involved transforming four lanes of traffic into two lanes and creating a pedestrian-friendly environment, all while the convention center continued to host gatherings and events.

“This was a true team effort, a highly collaborative project,” explained Jeremy Atkinson, site project manager for Landis Construction. “For one, in tearing up the street we had to relocate over a mile of utilities and when we dug in, we found 300 years’ worth of construction, including cobblestone streets and old railroad tracks that used to lead to an old stamp factory. We worked very successfully with Entergy to relocate what is a main power district for the city, and all of this within what felt like a never-ending high river season, which involved us working hand in hand with the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Atkinson said Landis’ secret weapon in combating such a complicated project — and delivering it ahead of schedule and on budget — lies in the use of something called Lean Construction.

According to LeanConstruction.org, “Lean Construction is a respect- and relationship-oriented production management-based approach to project delivery — a new and transformational way to design and build capital facilities.”

A main idea of Lean Construction is respect for all the members working on a project in an effort to maximize value and minimize waste.

“The Lean principles and techniques employed on the linear project directly resulted in the project’s success,” said Atkinson. “While statistically, Lean projects are proven to be built ahead of schedule and on-budget, according to Dodge analytical reports, it’s important to remember that Lean is about ‘building people to build better.’ Landis has picked up these Lean principles because it fits in so well with our culture.”

Atkinson said he has personally experienced the benefits of Lean Construction for about five years and is excited to be part of NOLA Lean, a local community of volunteers from several local construction companies “dedicated to making our industry better.”

The group will be hosting the 24th Lean Construction Institute Congress in New Orleans from Oct. 18-21. More information is available at LCICongress.org.

 


 

Transforming an Historic Former Orphanage into a High-End Hotel

Construction Stvincent

Hotel Saint Vincent

Address: 1507 Magazine Street, New Orleans
Owner: Kupperman Companies
General Contractor: Impetus, A Palmisano Company
Architect: MetroStudio
Cost: $22.5 million
Size: 71,000 square feet
Construction time: September 17, 2019 — March 11, 2021

The large red brick building at the corner of Magazine and Race streets in the Lower Garden District started its life in 1861 as a refuge for orphaned children called the Saint Vincent’s Infant Asylum. The orphanage was founded by a native of Ireland named Margaret Haughery — a statue of whom can be found just six blocks east of the building in Margaret Place Park — and served as a haven to those in need until the 1990s.
One hundred and sixty years later, Saint Vincent’s has been reimagined into a different kind of haven — one for travelers looking for a unique boutique experience.The high-end hotel belongs to Kupperman Companies, a real estate development and investment firm whose other local hotel projects include The Drifter, The Catahoula and The Frenchmen.

“It was really an informal selection process,” said Nick Moldaner, chief operating officer of Impetus, the construction company for the project, about receiving the job. “We had an early conversation with Zach Kupperman and that basically rolled into a very intensive design process. We worked for a year on pre-construction with all the different partners.”

Moldaner said the first issue that had to be tackled was the condition of the existing five historic buildings.
“It was a long process to understand the condition of the buildings and then bring them up to a suitable shell for us to use,” he said. “We completely gutted all the interiors. And then of course you have to coordinate things like new electrical and plumbing systems to fit within the constraints of a historic building … Basically, the pre-con never stopped, it just bled into the construction process.”

The finished Hotel Saint Vincent features 74 guest rooms, a pool, restaurant, café, courtyard, cocktail lounge, and a fashion and lifestyle boutique housed within six buildings — the renovated five historic buildings and one new construction building that serves as a modern event space and includes one of two new kitchens.

 


 

Waging a Battle on Many Fronts to Bring In a New Level of Luxury

Construction Fourseasons

Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

Address: 2 Canal Street
Owner: Two Canal, LLC
General Contractor: Woodward-AECOM Tishman Joint Venture
Design Architect: CambridgeSeven
Collaborating Architect: Woodward Design+Build,LLC
Historic Architect: Trapolin Peer Architects Cost: $465 million
Size: 780,000 square feet
Construction time: July 2018 — July 2021

A veteran of the construction industry with over 50 years of experience, Paul Flower, CEO of Woodward since 1987, has led the construction efforts on countless projects across the Gulf South, but his passion for the recent Four Seasons Hotel makes it evident that this project is particularly special for him.

Flower has served as the lead development partner for the project, managing the design and construction activities on behalf of the ownership team.

“The main goal of this project was to take the World Trade Center — an unbelievably good site — and transform it into a high-end hotel experience the likes of which we did not have in this city,” he said.

Unfortunately, the project’s challenges began before construction could even start with a highly publicized lawsuit that was eventually dismissed, but not before setting construction back two years.

The lawsuit, however, was only the first of the hotel’s challenges.

“Securing the equity and investors for a $500 million endeavor in a second-tier city was not easy,” he said. “The size of the project also meant we had to put together a construction team large enough to manage and address everything. On a given day we’d have 500 to 700 people working on site.”

Flower said he is particularly proud that the hotel’s construction needs could be met primarily with local subcontractors.

“Well over 40% of our subs were disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) — something I don’t think any other local construction project can come close to saying — and only maybe 15% or less were national companies, and even then, they were usually combined with a local contractor.”

Just as the foundation was being completed in 2019, the Mississippi River was reaching record-breaking heights, causing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to temporarily halt construction on the project.

After three years of construction, the 34-story building officially opened as New Orleans’ only five-star hotel. In addition to 342 rooms and suites, 92 private residences, two restaurants led by acclaimed local chefs and 8,000 square feet of enclosed gardens, 75-foot swimming pool and hot tub, the hotel is set to open two new attractions in early March. The first is what Flower called “the largest and most comprehensive spa in Louisiana and perhaps beyond” and the second is Vue Orleans, an interactive cultural experience spanning three floors of the building that Flower said “has to be experienced to be believed” and is estimated to draw around 500,000 visitors a year.

With all its enormous demands and frustrating setbacks, Flower said the finished product has proven well worth the fight.

“The hotel hosted a Four Seasons company board meeting that included Issy Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons, and the comments that we kept hearing were that you could take our building and put it in London or Paris or Dubai or anywhere in the world,ß and it could compete at the top of the market,” said Flower. “This hotel is a real selling tool for New Orleans & Company and an asset for our city as a whole.”

 


 

Bringing A Big Idea to a small Space

Construction Virgin

Virgin Hotels New Orleans

Address: 550 Baronne Street, New Orleans
Owner: The Buccini/ Pollin Group and Virgin Hotels
Design-Builder: Broadmoor, LLC
Architect: Mathes Brierre Architects / Callison RTKL
Cost: $50-$60 million
Size: approximately 185,000 square feet
Construction time: July 2019 — August 2021

When British Billionaire Richard Branson is involved with something, you know it will be big. The entrepreneur founded Virgin Group in the 1970s and it has since become a multinational venture capital conglomerate that controls more than 400 companies, with subsidiaries including Virgin Mobile and Virgin Atlantic airlines.

So, when Virgin Hotels — the lifestyle hotel brand managed by Virgin Group that celebrated its 10th year in 2021 — decided to build a hotel in New Orleans, the focus was to deliver a big splash — even within a not-so-big footprint.

“One of the main challenges to this project was the size of the site and small adjacent roadways, which is also located in a residential neighborhood,” said Brian Vega — project executive with Broadmoor, the construction company that built the hotel — of the property that sits on the riverside corner of Baronne and Lafayette streets in New Orleans’ Central Business District. “It adds complexity in every step of the process where every detail must be planned in advanced and included in coordination efforts. A large amount of that success is attributable to our commitment to Lean Construction practices and the Last Planner ® System, (a collaborative planning system that is part of the Lean Construction method of building) meaning each trade partner took part in building the plan to success.”

As part of its commitment to take a more innovative approach to building, Broadmoor also used various technologies to move the hotel along.

“This and all Broadmoor projects are committed to staying on the front line of technology,” said Vega. “By using innovative imaging and scheduling tools, we are able to monitor the installation of our work real time against the schedule and quality expectations. In turn, we were able to maximize pre-fabrication to minimize on-site waste, which was critical due to our space constraints.

The completed 14-story hotel features 238 rooms ranging in size from 294 square feet to the 1,097-square-foot “Richard’s Penthouse Flat,” which features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown New Orleans.

Virgin Hotels New Orleans is the brand’s fifth hotel, and while its design features were carefully crafted to give a nod to New Orleans’ unique culture, it also shares standard features of every Virgin Hotels property, such as the inclusion of a Commons Club dining experience, Funny Library Coffee Shop and The Pool Club.

But while the brand promotes a lively party atmosphere, relaxation was also taken seriously.

“The hotel brand had very specific sound transmission requirements, which in turn required very intricate assemblies to ‘buffer’ the sound transmission from the several public and rooftop spaces from the guestrooms,” said Vega, who added, “the attention to every detail for a one-of-a-kind experience is what makes this hotel stand out in our market.”