Time is Money

Story by Tony Ilia | September 28, 2010

Heavy iron is flexing its muscle on the Las Vegas Strip, where $32.7 billion worth of fast-track hotel, casino and convention construction is under way. Mega-resort projects will add 32,095 rooms, 3.37 million square feet of convention space and 3,943 more timeshare units by 2011, reports the Las Vegas Convention Visitors Authority. And another $46.3 billion worth of projects are tentatively planned for future development.

“Las Vegas' long-term economic outlook is healthier than other cities of similar size due to our tourism and entertainment-based industries,” said John Restrepo, principal of Restrepo Consulting Group, a Las Vegas-based economic research firm. “Many of the Strip projects now under way were developed and underwritten long before the current economic and housing market slump.”

Construction, not surprisingly, is the Southern Nevada's second largest and fastest-growing employer, trailing only the hospitality sector, reports the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. The industry is responsible for about 103,000 jobs in the Las Vegas area alone – nearly 10 percent of the state's total employment – generating $14.7 billion in annual economic activity.

Much of construction workforce is concentrated on the Strip, where time is money. The city's gaming giants expect no-excuse prompt results. The sooner a mega-resort opens, the sooner it makes money. The hectic pace means utilizing workhorse equipment around the clock. Many contractors and owners include spare parts and backup machinery in project budgets as insurance against downtime. Equipment selection is often based on age and warranty and service plans as opposed to cost. Most Strip jobs have dedicated maintenance and mechanic staff to ensure efficient equipment operation.

“Las Vegas is definitely more schedule-driven than other markets,” said Daniel McQuade, president of Tishman Construction Corp of Nevada, which is serving as construction manager on two of the city's biggest projects – Echelon and CityCenter. “It's geared toward getting projects done quickly. There is more equipment on a Las Vegas project running more hours a week. Equipment, as result, is seemingly better maintained since it's so heavily used.”

Multiple Cranes

Tishman is overseeing work as construction manager on Boyd Gaming's $4.8-billion, 5,000-room Echelon mega-resort project on the Strip. On Aug. 1, however, Boyd announced that will delay work by three to four quarters due to “challenging economic conditions” and “the difficult environment surrounding today's capital markets.” The development, which is already 12 stories out of the ground, was originally scheduled to finish by the third quarter of 2010. The eight-building complex broke ground June 19, 2007, at the 87-acre site of the former Stardust hotel-casino. The complex calls for five hotels, a 650,000-square-foot convention center, a 300,000-square-foot retail mall, and a 140,000-square-foot casino.

Three of its hotels share the same 4-million-square-foot cast-in-place superstructure but have separate exterior facades, interiors, elevators and entrances. The 640-foot Hotel Echelon, 540-foot Enclave and 430-foot-high Shangri-La are being built simultaneously using five Linden Comansa, 21LC400 model flat-top modular tower cranes, each with 164-foot jibs and 39,670-pound lifting capacities with 308-feet-per-minute maximum line speeds.

Multiple cranes are needed to reach across the 600-foot-long building, which has up to 80,000-square-foot floor plates. The tower additionally uses six dual-car Alimak Scando 650s man and material hoists, each with a 7,100-pound capacity moving at up 300-feet-per-minute speed with no counterweight. The new hoists manufactured by Stockholm, Sweden-based Alimak are among the fastest cars available.

The $2.9-billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas, like its Echelon neighbor, has similarly set a blistering pace thanks, in part, to its workhorse equipment. The 63-story, 3,889-room mega-resort is located at Las Vegas and Rivera Boulevards. Developed by Fontainebleau Resorts LLC, the 25-acre project consists of 1,000 condo-hotel units, a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 60,000-square-foot spa, and a 3,200-seat performing arts center. Las Vegas-based Turnberry West Construction is the general contractor.

The project's 737-foot-tall, 3.4-million-square-foot cast-in-place hoteltower uses four tower cranes for its vertical erection, including two Linden Comansa 21LC550 model flat-top modular tower cranes: one with a 130-foot jib, the other a 164-foot jib. The Terex/Comedil CTL series, meanwhile, makes up the other two lufting boom tower cranes: one at 196 feet long, the other at 144 feet. The C-shaped tower, which has 51,500-square-foot average floor plates, is rising at an impressive rate of a floor every five days. Colsanti Specialty Services Inc., Macomb, MI, and Ceco Concrete Construction LLC, Tempe, AZ, are the concrete contractors.

“If you can't do a floor a week, you shouldn't be in Vegas,” said Claude Trudeau, vice president of Atlas Construction Supply, San Diego, which is providing Fontainebleau's formwork and shoring. “Cost is a factor, but schedule dictates in Vegas. There aren't too many people who can tackle it. Contractors expect you to be there before equipment breaks down. We always keep units on standby.”

Record-Setting Project

The 76-acre MGM Mirage CityCenter development will consist of residences, hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants, and showrooms. Perini Building Co. photos.

CityCenter, meanwhile, farther south along the Strip, is working three shifts, six days a week in order to finish the largest privately financed project in U.S. history, company officials claim. The $9.2-billion, 18.6-million-square-foot mixed-use complex is located between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio resorts. The 76-acre MGM Mirage development will consist of residences, hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants, and showrooms. Perini Building Co. is the general contractor.

The mammoth project is anchored by twin 60-story cast-in-place concrete-and-glass hotel towers designed by Cesar Pelli, architect of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The dual skyscrapers, which total 6.5 million square feet, have a base floor plate of 113,000 square feet. The twin skyscrapers house 4,000 hotel rooms, a 200,000-square-foot casino, a 1,800-seat Cirque du Soleil theater, and 225,000 square feet of meeting space.

The residential portion contains 1,543 condo-hotel units and 1,159 condos in five cast-in-place towers, including Helmut Jahn's dual 37-story Veer Towers, combining for 700 condos; Rafael Viñoly's 50-story, 1,543-unit Vdara condo-hotel; Kohn Pedersen Fox's 442-room Mandarin Hotel and Residences; and Sir Norman Foster's 228-unit Harmon Hotel & Residences.

CityCenter additionally features a 550,000-square-foot shopping mall designed by World Trade Center architect Daniel Libeskind as well as 15,000 parking spaces, 12.8 acres of open space, a 2,090-foot-long monorail, and $150 million people-mover system.

The project's equipment needs are awesome. Perini, for instance, has 800 telephones, 632 radios and 140 fleet vehicles on site alone. CityCenter will use 300 golf carts, 2,500 scissor lifts, 23 Hercules man/material hoists, and 14 Terex/Comedil 35-ton tower cranes. Perini works with multiple vendors to equip the project due to its size. Many firms purchased additional equipment in order to service the job. Sunstate Equipment, Ahern Rentals and Hertz Equipment Rental Corp. all have several machinery pieces on the site.

“They have to be available 24/7 to take care of problems with rapid response the same day. Time is money,” said one company official. “We have mechanics out 10 to 12 hours a day for maintenance and repair. We perform standard equipment maintenance and fueling at night and on the weekends.”

The project is divided into three super blocks, each with its own management team. CityCenter will see a peak workforce of 7,000 tradesmen and 420 executive personnel. It coordinates equipment delivery and operation with the adjacent $3.9-billion Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino. The 6.96-million-square-foot mega-resort developed by 3700 Associates LLC calls for a 2,998-room condo, hotel, casino, and entertainment complex on 8.5 acres with zero lot lines. Perini, once again, is the general contractor.

Flying Forms

Cosmopolitan maximized its Strip-front real estate by excavating down 75 feet to create a five-level, 3,800-vehicle underground parking garage. The giant bathtub-like opening is supported with 30-inch-thick, 24-foot-wide slurry concrete wall panels with 2,881 tiebacks, 85 feet deep. The cavity uses 17 million pounds of reinforcing steel rebar and 90,000 cubic yards of 6,000-psi concrete. Cosmopolitan's 330,000-square-foot footprint rises from a parking structure into 100-foot-tall retail, casino and entertainment podium topped by two 600-foot-tall twisting blue glass hotel and condo-hotel towers.

Perini is using five hammerhead tower and six mobile cranes to erect the cast-in-place, post-tensioned buildings via flying forms. Cranes must run through building openings that later get closed due to site constraints that also force materials to be staged 10 miles away at a rented yard. Although Perini is working concurrently at both Cosmopolitan and CityCenter, each project has its own set of subcontractors, supervisors and teams. The Cosmopolitan, which broke ground on Oct. 25, 2005, is currently scheduled to finish on time.

“We have enough history to break down these projects by square footage and come up with numbers for everything from manpower to equipment,” said one Perini official who asked not to be named. “The price isn't all you have to go by. It all comes down to time in this town.”