Puerto Rico’s Largest Development Grows on Waterfront

Fri May 28, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni

The Puerto Rico Convention Center District, a large-scale, $415-million development on a 113-acre (46-ha) site near the San Juan metropolitan area, has been under construction since November 2001.

The 580,000-sq.-ft. (53,882 sq m) facility is the centerpiece of the development that will include parks, extensive green areas, a Promenade, retail space, residences, hotels, movie theaters and office buildings.

The project, located on the site of the former U.S. Naval and Coast Guard Base in San Juan’s Isla Grande Island, overlooks San Juan Bay and is the largest waterfront development in the history of Puerto Rico.

Manny Sanchez is the executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District Authority, the government agency responsible for the development of the meeting facility and the Convention Center District.

Emphasizing the enormity of the project, Sanchez said, “Never again in Puerto Rico will we have 113 acres under construction.”

The project is structured as a public/private partnership with the total estimated cost of $415 million coming from public funds and another $900 million coming from private construction.

The goal of the project is urban revitalization with the intention to establish Puerto Rico as the leading destination for business and tourism, especially in the convention markets of North America, Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean. The new Convention Center will accommodate conventions, tradeshows, consumer shows, and conferences.

“The purpose of the project,” explained Sanchez, “is to broaden the Island’s already successful tourism industry. The project will allow Puerto Rico to participate more often in medium to large conventions.”

All aspects of the Convention Center District will complement each other, creating an urban design dubbed “Lifestyle Center.”

“It is a tourist and commercial center, yet its urban design and lifestyle center will enhance the lives of the people that live there,” said Sanchez.

The District’s first phase of construction, which includes the Convention Center, infrastructure, Promenade and parks, is on schedule for completion in late 2005.

The first phase involves piecing together 152,700 sq. ft. (14,186 sq m) of exhibition space; 39,500 sq. ft. (3,670 sq m) for a ballroom; and 36,200 sq. ft. (3,363 sq m) of meeting space. An extra 150,000 sq. ft. (13,500 sq m) will be added as space for exhibitions in each of the two additional phases. Sanchez said that the convention center has the ability to “expand twice to one million square feet.”

Currently, the convention center and surrounding infrastructure are 42.7 percent complete.

Workers have closed off the second and third floors of the three-story building, and with its high ceilings, the Center will stand at 580 ft. (177 m), the equivalent of a 13-story building.

Level one will house the entry lobby, concourse and exhibit hall. The facility’s meetings spaces will be on levels one and two and will be separated into 12 rooms that can further be divided into 25 breakout rooms. Additionally, level two will include the conference rooms for the show managers and a balcony providing views of the exhibit space below.

Level three will have a 12,800-sq.-ft. (1,189 sq m) covered terrace and the ballroom, which will be the largest ballroom in the Caribbean and divisible into two smaller sections.

Hardin Construction Group/QB Construction is the construction manager for the Puerto Rico Convention Center and the District infrastructure. The Hardin/QB team is a joint venture of Hardin Construction Group, Atlanta; and QB Construction, San Juan, Puerto Rico. As construction manager, the team will be managing the bidding process and coordinating the various construction contracts involved in the project.

A total of $197 million in contracts has been awarded so far for structural steel; electrical and ornamental stone work; skylights and windows; fireproofing; and roads, utilities, and ground improvement.

During the initial stages of construction, crews had to demolish existing buildings and clean up the island.

“The whole area is called Isla Grande. It is a man-made island, and the terrain had to be improved,” said Sanchez. “We had to bring in 3,094 piles to better the soil.”

At this point, the Convention Center’s foundation, concrete and cement work had been completed. A $25-million contract was awarded in November to Caparra Construction Corp. for interior work, including bricklaying, cabinetry, architectural finishes and flooring.

The contract for structural steel construction was awarded to American Bridge, headquartered in Coraopolis, PA.

The first shipment of steel arrived from South Korea in February 2003. So far, 24 million lbs. (10.8 million kg) of steel, manufactured and preassembled in South Korea, has been shipped to the job site and 98 percent has been installed. The company is using American cranes to install the 70-lb. (31.5 kg) pieces of steel.

The design architect for the Convention Center is TVS International Inc., Atlanta, and the production architect of record is Jimenez & Rodriguez Barcelo A.I.A., San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Caribbean Sea is the inspiration for the Convention Center’s design. The large sweeping roof forms provide the dominant architectural expression ––¬†they recall waves, which have complex geometry, color and translucency.

The roof, shaped like a giant, translucent wave, will sit above a sand-toned entry plaza. “We call it the wave,” said Sanchez. He also added, “It is an architectural jewel.”

Other sea-inspired features include the terrazzo carpeting in the lobby, which will display the subtle hues of waves washing onto the shore. Throughout the public concourses and inside the facility, the carpeting will change, like the ocean, from light sea tones to deep blues and greens.

A massive glass wall is another dominant feature of the design. It will cover the front of the building, reaching the center’s three stories from the ground to the roof. In addition to the glass-stayed curtain wall, other materials being used for the exterior and interior of the Convention Center include natural materials of wood and stone, polished stone, stuccoes concrete and a traditional curtain wall.

Continuing with the Caribbean Sea theme, the interior of the ballroom will contain the world’s largest chandelier that will sparkle under the dramatic arched roof. The light reflecting off of the chandelier will have colors that will roll like waves from white to turquoise to azure to black. The light will also reflect around the ballroom, glistening off paneled walls and on the carpet, which was designed to mimic moonlight on the Caribbean Sea.

The Convention Center’s technology will be the most advanced of any convention center in Latin America and the Caribbean. It will have the capacity for video conferencing, broadband and wireless communications. Its technology also will include programmable controls for two lighting levels in the exhibition hall, multi-mode fiber-optic connections in the ballroom and the capability for remote audio recording of programs in the meeting room space.

Other architectural firms working on the project are Boston-based Sassaki Associates joined by Arquitectonica, Miami, to develop the urban design vision and master plan for the Puerto Rico Convention Center District. Sassaki also has prepared designs for the District open space, including landscape architecture.

San Juan-based CSA Architects & Engineers is providing infrastructure design services for the Convention Center District.

The Convention Center District will have a 500-room hotel, which is expected to break ground at the end of the year with a projected opening in 2007.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, under its Sheraton banner, was selected in March to enter negotiations to operate the flagship property. Starwood beat out the other two finalists, Hyatt and Marriott. The $175-million facility will include several restaurants, a casino, a spa and a fitness center. The anchor hotel will also have the capacity for future expansion to approximately 852 rooms.

The firms that have been selected to begin negotiations to develop the project are Dallas, TX-based Garfield Traub Developers LLC and the Interlink Group of Puerto Rico. RTKL International, also of Dallas, has been selected to begin negotiations to provide architectural services for the hotel design. In a subsequent phase of construction, a second hotel with a maximum of 920 rooms will be built.

In addition to the hotel and the convention center, the Convention Center District will be developing eleven other parcels of land for a total of 4 million sq. ft. (360,000 sq m).

According to Sanchez, the District “has permits for two hotels, a movie theater, two office towers, and 525 residential units.”

Currently, the District plans to have 718,155 sq. ft. (64,634 sq m) of office space and has reserved approximately 245,000 sq. ft. (22,050 sq m) for exclusive retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters. A total of 7,914 parking spaces will be included in the construction of the District.

The Promenade area has been designed with the purpose of creating the illusion of bringing water into the District. It will contain a system of lagoons and will have restaurants and retail outlets throughout. The Promenade also will have tracks of open areas facing the San Antonio Channel. In the future, these open areas may be used for recreational and leisure purposes.

When the Puerto Rico Convention Center is complete, San Juan will have the capacity to attract groups with 2,500 to more than 10,000 attendees situated in a a tropical locale.