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PCL-Plant Construction Finishes Up $134M Block E Complex in MN

Tue October 29, 2002 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland

Rising from the tarmac of a temporary parking lot located on one whole city block in downtown Minneapolis is a 22-story hotel and entertainment center.

Coined Block E by city of Minneapolis developers, it marks a significant development by the city in its on-going, 30-year effort to revitalize the old warehouse district on the western edge of the downtown retail and business district.

The first two, above-ground levels or 160,000 sq. ft. (14,400 sq m) of the structure include restaurant, retail and entertainment tenants anchored by Sega GameWorks, Borders Books and Music and the Hard Rock Cafe. The entire third level or 80,000 sq. ft. (7,200 sq m) of the structure will be home to a 15-screen Crown Theaters cinema with a capacity of 3,600 seats.

The remaining 19 floors will hold 255 rooms of a Le Meridien Hotel. A two-level, 550-car capacity parking ramp sits below street level of the entire hotel and entertainment center.

The hotel/entertainment center stands directly across from the Target Center, home to the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, concerts, shows and conventions attracting more than 1 million visitors every year to Minneapolis. It will be a strategic link between the warehouse and the business/retail districts of the city.

A skyway will connect the Target Center, located on the far western edge of the downtown business and retail district, to the hotel/entertainment center. Another skyway shooting east into the City Center complex of downtown Minneapolis will lead visitors and guests of the new hotel/entertainment center to the rest of the retail and business tenants of downtown Minneapolis.

McCaffery Interests, Chicago, IL, and the Graves Hospitality Group, Minneapolis, MN, are the primary developers for the Block E area. Antunivich Associates, Chicago, designed the structure while Chris P. Stefanos Associates, also of Chicago, provided the structural engineering services. PCL Construction, Minneapolis, joined with Plant Construction, of San Francisco, in a joint venture as the primary contractors for the project.

Total development and construction cost of the hotel/entertainment center is $134 million coming from private and Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) funds.

Chris Born, PCL-Plant construction superintendent of the project, said he expects a mid-fall opening date for the retail/entertainment complex and a January 2003 opening for the hotel. The two-level, underground ramp opened the first week of August. The steel and concrete structure along with the exterior facade is complete. Works crews have been working feverishly to complete the interior electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems, Born said.

“The hotel opening is now on hold until late January,” Born explained, “because of some re-design work for the interior electrical system. We’re on a fast track to get it completed.”

The underground parking ramp and the hotel rising above the entertainment center is cast-in-place construction. The entertainment complex is structural steel, Born said.

Sowles Steel Erection from Minneapolis erected the steel component of the building.

Two Liebherr 281 HC tower cranes, owned by Northwest Tower Crane, a division of Sowles Steel Erection, erected to a height of 150 ft. (45 m) and 280 ft. (85 m) opposite each other hoisted the majority of the raw construction material for the complex. Both have a hoisting range of approximately 6,500 to 26,000 lbs. (2,925 to 11,700 kg).

PCL-Plant Construction subcontracted a portion of the paneling work to Vic’s Crane & Heavy Haul of Rosemount, MN. Vic’s workers removed the construction elevator and placed the remaining paneling at the location of the elevator. They used a 175-ton (158 t) Grove 5175 crane with a 161-ft. (50 m) main boom and 185 ft. (56 m) of jib to hoist the siding.

Approximately 100 other subcontractors worked on the structure.

Glenn Rehbein Excavating, Blaine, MN, a subcontractor of PCL-Plant Construction, began excavating the site in October 2000. According to Mick Richardson, general foreman of Rehbein at the site, a couple of Komatsu 400 and 120 backhoes dug 35 ft. (11 m) below ground level to make way for the double floor underground parking ramp. Richardson also used the Komatsu backhoes to dig out two 30 by 30 by 6 ft. (9 by 9 by 1.8 m) deep holes to construct the mammoth base pads for the two Liebherr tower cranes used on the job.

Additionally, a Cat D8 dozer with a 12-ft. (3.6 m blade and a Cat 966 with a 4.5-cu.-yd. (3.4 cu m) bucket backed up the backhoes for the excavation phase of construction.

Richardson relied on Komatsu 400 artic trucks to remove the excavated material.

“We had as many as 45 trucks at a time taking out material. We took out roughly 158,000 cu. yds. of material. Some of it was contaminated fill, a lot rock and a lot of rubble,” Richardson said.

The truck movement into and out of the site presented a small challenge in itself because all construction was done surrounded by four downtown arterial streets which remained open to traffic during construction.

“We built an in ramp and out ramp for the trucks,” Richardson explained. “And we hired Minneapolis cops to stop the street traffic for our loading trucks.”

The Minnesota climate also took a turn for the worse during the excavation phase of construction. After a string of relatively mild winters, the winter of 2000/2001 showered the Twin cities with more than 70 in. (178 cm) of snow along with frigid temperatures.

Consequently, Richardson said, the snow forced his crews to sometimes blade the ramps several times a day during heavy snow falls and place dry material on them to maintain traction for the heavy truck traffic.

Once Rehbein crews removed the asphalt surface of the parking lot and the surrounding concrete sidewalks, drilling crews from Layne Minnesota, of Minneapolis, moved onto the site. They drilled the perimeter of the site at the property line for the installation of the beams for the lagging. The lagging also served as the outside form for the concrete foundation. Schnabel Foundation Company, with offices nationwide, drilled 50 ft. (15 m) horizontally to place the tie-back rods for the earth retention system. It laterally supported the horizontal loads of the four arterial streets surrounding the construction site, said Mark Goudschaal, design/construction manager for Schnabel.

Schnabel used a Hopto 500B drill rig that it owns and built in the early 1980s, Goudschaal said.

“This drill rig is our most efficient and productive piece of equipment that we own for installing tie-backs in the Minneapolis sands,” Goudschaal explained. “It performed well. The drill rig has an old backhoe chassis and all the working parts can be easily replaced.”

“Each cable [for the tie back rods] was stressed to 72,000 lbs.,” Born added.

Layne crews drilled with a 2500 drill rig mounted on a Sterling 2000 truck, a 1998 Watson 3100 track mounted drill rig and an American 5999 drill rig with a WJ attachment.

The cold Minnesota winter also affected the drilling crews, Richardson said.

“The cold weather hurt the drilling guys, especially for the tie-back work because they had to drill with water,” Richardson explained. “They had to keep 300 to 400 ft. of water hose from freezing.”

Underground rock also slowed the caisson drilling. It forced Layne crews to regularly switch to core barrel drill heads to punch through the underground rock, Richardson said.

Besides the cold and snowy winter during the excavation phase of construction and the ongoing electrical design, Born said that building a 22-story structure surrounded by four, heavily traveled city streets also presented a challenge for his crews.

“We worked on a full city block with no lay down time. All of our deliveries had to be scheduled. We could not have trucks sitting and blocking traffic,” Born emphasized.

The construction of this hotel/entertainment center continues a 30-year effort by the city of Minneapolis to pump new life into a depressed and deteriorating section of downtown Minneapolis.

The original warehouse district occupied a large area on the western side of the downtown Minneapolis retail and business district. It included a variety of storage and distribution centers for the city’s grocery, dry goods, glasswares, agricultural implements and textiles for the city’s original commerce trade.

Scattered through this area were bars, restaurants and other small retailers that catered to the workers in the warehouse district.

The warehouse districts began to decline in the 1920s with changes in wholesaling, transportation and general economic trends. Changes in the farm machinery industry in the 1920s and the 1930s combined with the 1930s agricultural collapse exacerbated the decline. The post-war suburban growth in the 1950s was the final blow to the area. It became a haven for the lower end type of businesses.

The city of Minneapolis saw the warehouse district begin to revitalize itself when developers renovated the Butler Brothers warehouse, formerly wholesalers of general merchandise, and turned it into Butler Square, a mixed use retail and office building in the early 1970s. Other developers saw the success of the Butler Square project and began renovating other buildings in the area.

Except for the Schubert Theater, the businesses that formerly occupied Block E were the last vestiges of a series of less than desirable entertainment enterprises from the old warehouse district that the city of Minneapolis wanted to eliminate. They included several tattered and tacky bars and bookstores. According to city officials and the police department, it was a magnet for crime and drug dealing.

The city of Minneapolis razed the block, except for the theater, and turned it into an asphalt parking lot in the late 1980s, which opened the area up for development proposals. City officials saved the theater from demolition because it earned a standing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

After much debate on development options, the city of Minneapolis accepted McCaffery Interests’ proposal to build the hotel and entertainment center as a strategic link between the Target Center and the renovated warehouse district to the rest of the retail and business district of downtown Minneapolis. The city moved the theater one block in 1999 to make way for the new construction. It is one of the largest buildings to have ever been moved.

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