Perched high above South Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive, just west of Lake Michigan and Grant Park, compact skid-steer loaders and heavy-duty attachments worked floor by floor to demolish the interior of one of Chicago's oldest and most-famous luxury hotels.
The Blackstone Hotel is in the midst of tremendous multi-year renovations before it will once again host guests in downtown Chicago. Bobcat skid-steer loaders and attachments operated by crews from Break Thru Enterprises, Lombard, Ill., played a critical part in the renovation of the historic hotel.
Completed in 1910, the Blackstone Hotel was named after Timothy Blackstone, the inaugural president of the Union Stock Yards, and it is an official Chicago landmark. As many as 12 U.S. presidents have stayed at the hotel — more than any other Chicago hotel — from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton. An exclusive presidential suite on the 10th floor designed for use by presidents and special guests was separated from the rest of the hotel with hollowed-out walls.
Prior to renovation, the hotel sat vacant for nearly eight years until Denver-based Sage Hospitality Resources purchased the property in 2005. The renovation project began last spring when Sage Hospitality Resources hired Chicago-based James McHugh Construction Co. to complete the estimated $112-million renovation. Once finished, the luxury hotel will reopen under the Marriott Renaissance name with 330 guest rooms; a second-floor restaurant with large arched windows offering views of Grant Park; and meeting rooms, board rooms and renovated public spaces.
The six-month demolition phase of the renovation project required special equipment because of space restrictions. Demolition specialists from Break Thru Enterprises were selected to demolish the interior walls and mechanicals throughout the hotel with a fleet of skid-steer loaders, hydraulic breakers and industrial grapple attachments.
With 12 years of experience in interior and exterior demolition, and more than 130 trained employees. Break Thru Enterprises was well-versed in construction projects like this.
According to Brian Duddy, vice president of Break Thru Enterprises, crews operated Bobcat 463 skid-steer loaders, which fit well in the hotel interior at just 36 inches wide, and S130 skid-steer loaders. Both machines are designed for job sites with limited access.
Equipped with a variety of demolition attachments, Duddy's Bobcat loaders tore through the upper floors of the hotel, and then debris was lifted and carried with industrial grapple buckets. He says a project like this would have taken tremendously longer if it had not been for his Bobcat compact loaders. Without the compact loaders, Break Thru Enterprises employees would have done all the work by hand, tediously removing concrete and walls.
"The Bobcat loaders worked floor to floor, tearing apart the building," says Duddy. "When they were done with one floor, they'd simply move down to the next one. The loaders carried the debris and lowered it to the ground through elevator shafts where larger loaders placed the debris in containers to be discarded."
Duddy says the Bobcat loaders and attachments were integral in sorting recyclable materials, like concrete and steel, on-site before they were sent elsewhere.
Duddy says minimizing disruptions in the area was a critical part of the project because of the building's location. The 22-story Blackstone Hotel is located at 636 S. Michigan Ave., adjacent to active businesses, Grant Park and traffic along Balbo Drive. To minimize the disruption, Break Thru Enterprises crews worked two shifts daily. According to representatives from McHugh Construction Co., the alley between Michigan Avenue and Wabash Avenue was closed to accommodate the debris removal.
In addition to their work at the Blackstone Hotel, Duddy says Break Thru Enterprises has performed similar demolition services at the historic Palmer House — now called the Palmer House Hilton. Duddy says his employees used Bobcat 463 skid-steer loaders with hydraulic breakers with similar operating conditions at the Blackstone Hotel. He says one of the challenges on the Palmer House Hilton project was that part of the building was still open to the public.
Chicago-based Pepper Construction Co. is leading the project that includes renovating more than 900 guest rooms and suites, constructing a new retail center for the hotel's base, installing a new fitness center, a new spa, and upgrading public areas on floors three through seven. Work is scheduled to be finished in summer 2008.
One of the first pieces of equipment Duddy purchased in 1995 when he and Roger Lisy started Break Thru Enterprises was a 700-series skid-steer loader from Atlas Bobcat. As a former employee of Atlas Bobcat, Duddy knew their durability and versatility on demolition projects where larger equipment would not fit.
"Our Bobcat loaders and attachments are extremely helpful because of their versatility and because of the jobsite restrictions we encounter," Duddy says. Break Thru Enterprises utilized the loaders throughout the process from interior demolition to sorting debris and loading material into containers. "We have some with as many as 3,000 hours on them," he says.
Training and safety are an important part of operating the skid-steer loaders on any of Break Thru Enterprises' demolition projects. Duddy says he ensures all of his loader operators are well trained before they operate the equipment. Bobcat dealers, like Atlas Bobcat in Chicago, offer a complete line of operator training kits, available in Spanish and English. These step-by-step courses introduce operators to the basics of machine and attachment operation, as well as service safety.
Once finished with both of these projects, Break Thru Enterprises has a full slate of projects scheduled. Duddy says he has crews working at as many as 20 different job sites across the city.