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Mavericks, Stars Soar With American Airlines Arena

Sat January 29, 2000 - West Edition
C.J. Wright

Much like the conjecture that grows before Oscar winners are announced on Academy Awards night, speculation mounted in the Dallas, TX, construction circles as well as in the press over which company would claim the prestigious position as builder of a new sports arena, expected to be a cut above all others and a project to shape the future of the city’s downtown.

Finally, in August 1999 after beating out three finalists, Austin Commercial received the nod and won the construction manager/general contractor spot for the American Airlines Center. Challenged to meet schedule, budget, and minority hiring goals, the Dallas-based company has been working nonstop ever since to make this fast-track project the new home of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and the Dallas Stars hockey team by fall 2001.

Typical of fast-track construction, which is designed a few days before it’s built, many details remain sketchy even as a 300-member crew of Austin employees and subcontractors finish pier drilling and top the concrete structure of what will become the proposed five-concourse, 78,210-square meter (869,000 sq. ft.) Center.

“It’s one method of getting things done in a shorter time frame,” said Bill Montgomery, Austin Commercial’s senior project manager for the American Airlines Center, in describing the rapid design/build approach. “If you waited for it to be designed 100 percent before you started, we’d probably be waiting another year before we got to start construction.”

Being built on approximately 12 acres of land north of Dallas’ historic West End and Woodall Rodgers Freeway and east of Stemmons Freeway (IH-35), this sports and entertainment facility is the product of a private/public partnership between the Mavericks and Stars owners and the city of Dallas.

The Center’s name is the result of a 30-year partnership formed by American Airlines, the facility’s principal corporate sponsor, and the Arena Group, headed by former Mavericks owner Ross Perot Jr. and Stars owner Tom Hicks. The Arena Group, which also manages Reunion Arena, was formed to build and operate the center.

Project developer, Hillwood Development Corporation, serves as construction manager, representing the owners and coordinating the project’s design and construction. Hillwood purchased a tract of land of more than 60 acres on which the American Airlines Center will occupy a central position. Eventually, a mixed-use development called Victory will combine entertainment, retail, residential, and office venues, and fill the surrounding acreage.

The purpose of the American Airlines Center and Victory projects is to serve as a catalyst for downtown revitalization by transforming an industrial site into a world class destination point which, besides being home base for Stars and Mavericks games, will host concerts and family shows as well as NCAA tournament competitions and NBA and NHL All-Star games.

“This is the site of the old Trinity River bottom,” said Montgomery of the land that once supported power and meatpacking plants. “The Trinity River used to run through this site and it’s in an area of town that’s not been highly developed in the last few years. So, [the Center] is going to benefit the area considerably.”

Montgomery described the challenge his company has faced thus far in building on the river bottom where unstable earth forced foundation piers to be drilled to an average depth of 3,600 meters (120 ft.).

“It was about 70 feet to the bearing strata and just a lot of water in different areas,” said Bill Wallace, Austin Commercial’s site supervisor. “I would say that the casing diameters and casing lengths are what made it really hard because you had about eight different diameters of piers . . . There were about four different lengths of casings because the bearing strata varied from 70 feet to 40 feet . . . The water didn’t come into effect really until we got under the bigger piers and it caused a lot of caving,” Wallace concludes, describing the problems encountered by subcontractor, NL Schutte Foundation Drilling, who used five drilling rigs and two service rigs to do the job.

Although terrain sometimes hampered drilling, good weather compensated and, according to Whitney Broussard, vice president and senior equipment manager at Austin Commercial, the work continues right on schedule. “It’s one of the largest jobs we’ve done and we’re very happy to do it,” he said.

Wallace estimated that during the course of the project Austin-owned equipment would make up about 90 percent of the machinery on site. At the time, three crawler cranes were being employed: a new, Link-Belt 248, 135 metric ton (150 ton); a Link-Belt 518, 180 metric ton (200 ton); and a Manitowoc 777, 157.5 metric ton (175 ton). Skat Trac and New Holland skid steers; Terex cherry pickers, 54 metric ton (60-ton) and 67.5 metric ton (75-ton); JCB forklifts; a JCB 4x4, Extend-A-Hoe backhoe; Ingersoll-Rand air compressors; Yamaha generators; a Case 855 track loader; and a JCB roller compactor were also at work.

The percentage of Austin people is pretty low compared with the number of subs that will work on the site, Wallace said. He estimated that, of a peak total of 600 workers that will be on the site, about 100 will be Austin Commercial employees. Although he could not give an exact figure, he said prime subcontractors would number in excess of 30 and that many of them would be contracting out to another four or five subs.

By late December pier drilling had finished and, with about 26,600 cubic meters (35,000 cubic yards) of concrete and 2,250 metric tons (2,500 tons) of rebar in place, the concrete structure was between 30 and 40 percent complete. During the first month of 2000, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing rough-ins were set in place. TD Mechanical and Turner’s Mechanical will do the mechanical and plumbing work, and Walker Engineering will do the electrical.

“It’s critical that we get our concrete structure topped out on time so that we can start our roof steel,” said Wallace. “Roof steel will start next — and the pre-cast — and then we’ll start our exterior skin. All those things will start around March 1st … That’s the first critical thing to do. The next critical thing is to get the roof on it — dry, so the finishes can start.”

By summer 2000, Wallace said they will be well on their way with the skin, but that the roof, which is still in submittal stage, will not be completed until December 2000. Much of the interior will be left to the last six months prior to the project’s tentative completion date of fall 2001.

While Wallace said the Center is not the biggest project he has worked on, he said it’s the most complicated, especially some of the finishes. “It’s very fast track,” he said, and referring to the city of Dallas and the Arena Group added, “You’ve got two different ownership groups and it’s ever changing, and we’re just fighting through the changes; and currently we’re proceeding on schedule even though they’re changing the things quite often.”

It was the vision of the Center’s design architect, David M. Schwarz of David M. Schwarz/Architectural Services in Washington D.C., who shaped the exterior skin and concourses. The firm has designed such area projects as The Ballpark in Arlington and Bass Performance Hall. Brian Trubey of the Dallas-based architectural firm, HKS Inc., teamed with Schwarz as the project’s managing architect. The two firms had previously collaborated on The Ballpark in Arlington and Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, FL.

HKS project manager Joseph Laakman, whose firm is designing the Center’s bowl, spoke about the fast-track process. “It used to be the exception ten years ago. Now it’s pretty much the rule,” he said. In describing the designs still to be worked through he added, “The amenities that we’re offering the patrons and the goal for the audio visual packages are to be leading edge.”

Touted as a state-of-the-art design, the Center will have five levels including the main event level, lower suite, club level, upper suite, and upper concourse. It is expected to place a high priority on being fan friendly. To this end, the Arena Group conducted a public survey and used its findings to ensure that plans included such amenities as an ample number of elevators, stairs, and escalators for easy access; good sight lines; and an increased number of restrooms to minimize lines.

“The biggest difference about this arena is that the bowl is one of the most intimate bowls that is out in the market place. In other words, the seats are closer to the action than in other arenas,” Laakman said, explaining how this intimacy will be achieved. “To maintain the proper site lines, we’ve had to decrease the floor to floor heights in some areas to a minimum and just maintain a certain number of rows in each level.”

The Center’s facade of brick and limestone will house five concourses with two public and three private levels. The seating is expected to accommodate 20,000 for center-staged events, 18,000 for hockey fans, and approximately 19,200 for basketball fans. There will be 1,600 club seats in prime locations. In compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act, plans also call for 200 barrier-free seats and 200 companion seats.

Although the design phase is ongoing, preliminary plans show 144 suites with 12 seats each; 135 points of food service; a private club, restaurant, and bar; merchandise stands and team stores; a restaurant and sports bar; a 200-seat, large meeting room, two 100-seat meeting rooms, and three 50-seat meeting rooms; 16 ticket windows; and a 2,000-car parking garage.

“That’s part of the design process that’s still going on at this point in time,” said Laakman. “Nothing is set in concrete. I can tell you where we are at this point. There’s a two-level restaurant to be located on one corner of the main concourse — one level would be on the main concourse, the other would be on the event level. On the opposite corner of the arena, we’re talking about having a brewpub, and then up on the club level they’re talking about having a stadium club on one end and a buffet on the other. So basically, the club level turns into almost a giant restaurant itself.”

A study conducted for the city of Dallas by Deloitte & Touche projects that construction of the Center will create 2,400 jobs and generate $86 million a year in salaries. In addition, the Center should produce $36 million a year in city taxes and attract an estimated two million people a year.

The city of Dallas will own the Center and the Mavericks and Stars will remain in Dallas through the year 2030. In addition, the teams agree to meet or exceed the city’s goals for women and minority business enterprises both during the development and operation of the Center.

Hillwood Development Corporation signed agreements with the city and minority leaders to try to meet certain goals for hiring minority and women-owned firms, a challenge that Austin Commercial, with its record for sharing work with minority contractors, seemed qualified to meet when, in January 1999, it was first hired to perform key pre-construction services for the project before being awarded the entire contract in August.

Speaking for Austin Commercial, Montgomery said, “This being partially city financed money — that’s part of the orientation — we try to buy as much Dallas-based contracts as we can, as well as trying to diversify the money not only among majority people but minorities and women-owned businesses as well.”

Although no one will disclose the Center’s price tag, it has been reported that construction costs for the project will run about $140 million, with the total cost — including roads, parking garages, and design fees — expected to exceed $300 million. The city’s contribution was capped at $125 million — a sum that will be paid from taxes collected on hotel rooms, rental cars, and annual rent from the sports teams.

Austin Commercial has expertise in most commercial construction projects such as the Bank of America Plaza, the Texas Commerce Tower, the Dallas Convention Center expansion, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and the Electronic Data Systems’ headquarters in Plano. Its competitors noted, however, that the company had not previously built a major sports arena although the firm had acted as general contractor for the construction of Lone Star Park and renovations to Reunion Arena.

For this American Airlines Center project, Austin Commercial has assembled a team of firms with extensive arena experience whose credits include construction on Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA; the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, NY; America West Arena in Phoenix, AZ; the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX; Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR, Georgia Dome in Atlanta; Olympic Stadium and subsequent renovation to Turner Field in Atlanta, and the Pyramid in Memphis, TN. The firms act as consultants to Austin, providing personnel who work side by side with the Austin staff.

Austin Commercial operations span the central and southwest regions of the United States with a primary focus on the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio areas of Texas. Since 1990, it has constructed over 30 million square feet in the DFW area alone and is the largest construction manager/general contractor in the Dallas area. It entered the commercial construction market in 1975.

With a record of completing projects on schedule and under budget, Austin Commercial and its parent company, Austin Industries — founded in 1918 — have received numerous awards including several Safety Training and Education Process (STEP) Awards, and National Excellence in Construction Awards from Associated Builders and Contractors, as well as minority/women business development awards.

In 1996 Austin Commercial recorded no lost-time accidents in more than two million man-hours, setting a company record for job site safety. In the area of minority participation, its local work force is 60 percent minority, and in 1998 Austin awarded $49.6 million in contracts to 164 minority and women-owned businesses.

To view Austin Commercial’s progress on the American Airlines Center, check the Web site at where time-lapse pictures provide hourly updates.

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