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’Tis the Season: Shoppers Rejoice Riverchase Galleria Renovations

Alabama's largest shopping mall gets a $60 million upgrade.

Wed December 11, 2013 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

A $60 million renovation of the state’s largest shopping mall is nearing completion near Birmingham, Ala., just in time for the 2013 holiday season. Work began on the project in mid-2012.

“Riverchase Galleria is currently undergoing an extensive redevelopment,” said Thomas Martin, senior general manager of General Growth Properties. “Shoppers will notice enhanced amenities with new soft seating and food court furniture, new architectural elements including pendant lighting in center court, remodeled food court restrooms, enhanced pedestrian bridge entrances and enclosed parking deck stairwells.

“We’ve worked very hard to minimize any inconvenience to our guests, and have opted to complete a majority of work after mall hours. One inconvenience that has been noticeable is the carousel, which is currently undergoing a complete restoration. It was taken apart by hand and carefully packed for a long truck ride to San Francisco. It’s being restored by craftsmen and will return in late July. It’s quite a labor- intensive project.”

Retailer Von Maur opened its first department store in the state this fall at the Galleria. The mall’s Wynfrey Hotel is completing a $20 million renovation. Last year, Galleria owners General Growth Properties and Jim Wilson & Associates of Montgomery announced the makeover to bring new life to the 27-year-old shopping complex. The Hoover City Council approved up to $25 million in sales tax incentives for the project.

Riverchase Galleria contains more than 1.5 million sq. ft. (139,354.6 sq m) of retail space, and stands as one of the largest shopping centers in the United States. As a result the mall has ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the state. The impact of the current redevelopment project alone could be as much as $100 million.

“Any project of this size doesn’t come without challenges. I think the biggest concern is always the unknown,” said Martin. “You can plan everything out and set deadlines for each project, but odds are things aren’t always going to go as planned. It often makes things even more challenging when you add in more than one general contractor.”

Birmingham-based Hoar Construction has been on the job since for the entire project.

“Public safety has been our number one concern at all times,” said project manager Daryl Whitehurst. “We managed this by working behind barricades. No work started until drywall barricades went up and there was no access to the work site. A lot of work has taken place at night, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.”

According to Whitehurst the Galleria job was challenging because more staff was required and work could be split into 25 jobs. Work inside the mall required smaller hand tools. Mini-excavators were used in tight spaces in the bathrooms, but their use was limited. Replacing the mall’s two elevators in the glass chambers was more labor intensive because crews had to work with demo and chain saws surrounded by barricades and stores. Under normal circumstances steel would have been set with forklifts, lulls or a crane but that wasn’t an option in this case.

“In renovating the existing restrooms, we had to rip out the old plumbing,” said Whitehurst. “Near JC Penney, we demolished two small retail spaces and built new restrooms on the north end of the mall. In the parking decks we changed out all the lighting, the fixtures and light levels, which were low. We installed a new signage package, installed new flooring and enhanced lighting at the lobby and the pedestrian areas with custom light fixtures and custom awnings and new handrails to bring them to today’s standards.”

Work on the parking deck, required lulls, scissor lifts and backhoes on the job. Crews ripped out old sidewalks and used cast iron pipe for underground work. Crews installed metal stud framing, drywall and ceramic tile work.

“It’s rewarding, because we’ve had the added challenge of working at an operating mall,” said Whitehurst. “You have to take more steps to complete the job. We’ve done a lot of work in the center court as far as installing theatrical lighting in the skylight system. The area is over 100 feet high, so that’s meant bringing in man lifts. We’ve also installed sheets of fabric that stretch from above, and there are LED lights with different colors. We’ve also used a lot of Georgia Buggies to haul materials in and out of the job site.”

Bobby Paasch, construction project manager of IDC, said hotel renovations will soon be complete.

“The Wynfrey Hotel is in transition of being turned into a Hyatt-Regency Hotel. The exterior of the building has been washed, windows polished, there’s new landscaping and pool upgrades have been made. The public spaces such as the ballrooms and meeting rooms have received new wall coverings, paint, carpet and lighting fixtures. Guestrooms are receiving a complete makeover, including receiving new air conditioning units, plumbing accessories and furniture.”

IDC began work on the exterior of the 15-story building last July. Construction on the interior commenced at the beginning of October.

The hotel has stayed in operation during the entire project. According to Paasch maintaining a low profile makes every day unique. The crew’s primary concern is to keep the hotel operating smoothly during the transitions. Work is done at all times of the day in order to accommodate guests’ busy schedules.

According to Martin changes will make for a better shopping experience. The lighting throughout the parking decks will be enhanced greatly, and guests will find it easier to remember where they parked in the decks due to the extensive color coding of each parking deck floor. Guests will enjoy new elevators throughout the decks and new landscaping throughout.

“This makeover signifies the commitment Riverchase Galleria has to the Hoover community and to our shoppers as a whole,” said Martin. I have an overwhelming sense of pride as the redevelopment and renovation of Riverchase Galleria nears. To be able to give something back to the community who has given us so much throughout the years makes all of our hard work and dedication to this project worthwhile.”

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