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Pueblo of Sandia Places Bet, Wins Big With McCarthy

Sat November 04, 2000 - West Edition
Pete Zlonkevich

When the Pueblo of Sandia elders decided to utilize their 692-acre (277 ha) tract on Albuquerque’s northern border for economic development, McCarthy was their obvious choice for general contractor.

With 136 years of experience under its tool belt, McCarthy is the oldest and largest privately-owned construction firm in the United States. An employee-owned company headquartered in St. Louis, it has averaged more than $1 billion in annual revenues over the past decade.

The centerpiece of Phase I, an $80-million Native American project in central New Mexico’s high desert, is the 209,000-sq.-ft (63,703 sq m) Sandia Casino — with three restaurants, an entertainment lounge and an 850-seat bingo and meeting facility. The $60-million crescent-shaped building features a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that will drink in the view of the spectacular 10,600-ft. (3,320 m) Sandia Mountains that dominate Albuquerque’s east side.

Phase I also includes a 3,000-sq.-ft. (914 sq m) amphitheater; 1,600 parking spaces, half of which are below ground, a water treatment plant and bridge, road and landscape improvements.

Sandia Pueblo’s Project Manager Robert Martinez and Project Manager Winton Smith of Phoenix’s 3D/I-Sundt, the construction manager for the project, identified several general contractors who they felt could handle the huge undertaking.

“After the fairly intensive rating system and interview process that we went through, we came up with McCarthy as the best and most qualified as far as we were concerned,” Martinez said. “Their ability to do the job; their past work experience on projects of this size, and larger, and of similar complexity; and their Project Manager Jim Brandt and the other folks that they proposed for the project made them the best selection for us. A lot of that had to do with the team that they presented — somebody we could work with. A lot of times it comes down to chemistry once everybody’s qualified,” added Martinez.

McCarthy broke ground on the underground parking garage in mid-January and the 16-month casino project is slated for completion on May 28, 2001. “We have been absolutely right on schedule,” Brandt said. “That has been the biggest challenge. We have some months where we’re going to be doing between 5 and 7 million dollars worth of work, so that’s a lot of labor. We have a lot of union forces out here and they’re all doing a good job for us.”

Brandt credits good planning, good subcontractors and superb management for the on-time realization of the project. “We have not hit any real snafus,” he said. “It’s a fast-track project, so we began the parking garage without a completed design for the casino, but that’s the way it was planned. That helps you on your schedule.”

The Sandia Pueblo gave Martinez direction to balance the work force with union/non-union and local/out-of-town workers. McCarthy is managing this project out of its southwest division based in Phoenix and while the majority of the management staff is from out-of-town, most of McCarthy’s subcontractors and the majority of the labor force is drawn from Albuquerque, as is water treatment plant design engineer Daniel B Stephens and civil contractor Dave Evans and Associates. “We’re just over 300 [employees] right now, with all of the subcontractors,” Brandt said, “and with about 35 McCarthy employees and 12 to 14 McCarthy staff members relocated from Phoenix.”

McCarthy’s major subcontractor is Universal Contractors of Albuquerque, NM. Universal owns all of the heavy equipment on the site under the direction of Project Superintendent Tony Cisneros.

McCarthy will improve Tramway Boulevard, the road leading to the casino entrance from Interstate 25, evolving it into a four-lane divided highway with a landscaped median to ease and enhance traffic flow. All casino utilities will run underground to preserve the natural vista. “We will have 12 miles of roadway and three bridges,” Smith said. “It’s a state of the art facility with 100 percent outside air — it’s always fresh air coming in. It’s going to be an interesting facility.”

The center point of the round amphitheater has been designed as the radius point of the curvature of the casino, adding a near-mystical cohesion to the project. The casino’s exterior face and interior layout will be formulated from sandstone extracted from local quarries. “The reason for the stone is that it’s reminiscent of Chaco Canyon, which is an abandoned village from hundreds of years ago,” Martinez said. “It’s pretty much where the pueblo folks figured they came from. “Just like the architecture is a pueblo architecture, the stone is reminiscent of the Chaco Canyon people. That is indigenous. All of the planting, the landscaping, etc., will be indigenous. We don’t want to introduce anything that wasn’t here before. The preservation of the land was one of the larger issues when we first started, and it still is.”

The new Sandia Casino will replace a bubble-top structure that has been one of the oldest and most successful Native American gaming palaces. “It’s going to be one of the finest facilities in the four state area,” Martinez said. “But with gaming comes the responsibility of doing other things, one of which is economic development beyond gaming. So we have a master planned area here for a resort — a hotel, golf course, high-end retail, power centers and all kinds of small, light industry. In case gaming ever went away, and that is an issue right now in New Mexico, the casino has been designed so that it can become a convention center as well. It’s all part of economic development, not only for this pueblo, but my thinking is for the pueblos across the state.”

The new casino will employ more than 1,200 people, putting it among Albuquerque’s top-30 employers.

Martinez said, “It will be an experience that Albuquerque probably hasn’t ever seen, and certainly an experience worth traveling to.”

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