Craft Construction – AC Hotel by Marriott

Craft ConstructionCraft Construction’s extensive local experience has made it a go-to hotel builder.

By Tim O’Connor

Barry Craft and Stephen Harden are used to working with their hands. The two began their careers in the construction industry as carpenters, and as the principals of Florida’s Craft Construction they still want to touch every part of a project, from laying the foundations to completing the finishes.

“What we market and sell to our customers is Barry’s and mine involvement in the project personally,” says Harden, vice president of field operations.Craft Construction info box

That hands-on approach makes Craft Construction an invaluable contributor even before construction begins. The firm prefers to become involved during the design phase before the final plans are set so that it can provide feedback on the budget and functionality of the end product.

In some cases, that design input can continue even after breaking ground. Take for example the AC Hotel by Marriott in Aventura, Fla. The overall look and concept of the new brand were in place, but many details, such as the finishes, were not finalized before site work began in fall 2015. The project needed flexibility so that it could stay on budget while implementing the design decisions that would occur later in construction.

To make it work, Craft Construction received concessions from Marriott that helped the owner finalize aspects of the building as the AC Hotel brand standard was still being defined. “We used our knowledge of the local industry to give our owner options that would maintain the standard of the brand,” Harden says.

To stay on deadline, site preparation had to get going as those key design decisions and permits were awaiting approval. The project had a site plan but had not yet received its foundation permit by September 2015, when workers started the lengthy soil remediation process to address ground contamination caused by years of the property being used as a garbage depository for surrounding developments. Crews had to dig down to the water table and ended up removing 7,800 cubic yards of soil before actual foundation work could begin at the end of 2015.

Work on the project continued just a step behind its approvals. Crews erected the first three floors of the nine-story structure while still working under the foundation permit and before obtaining the building permit. Meanwhile, Craft Construction worked with the client and Marriott designers to finalize the details of the brand standards ahead of every phase of construction. It all came together and the project met its deadline.

The $33 million hotel opened in June 2017 with 233 rooms and a 147-space parking garage. Amenities included a full-size pool with bar service, and three ground floor meeting rooms allowing business travelers to host large board gatherings or participate in online meetings.

Building the AC Hotel taught Craft Construction how to better manage evolving brand standards for new hotel concepts. “It really helped us be prepared for any of these types of issues on any project,” Harden says. “Now our administrative staff is dialed-in on making sure that information is verified up front.”

Local Experts

Construction of the AC Hotel went smoothly, thanks largely to Craft Construction’s understanding of the quirks of the South Florida market. With more than 20 million square feet of projects delivered between them, few contractors in the region can match Craft Construction’s local knowledge.Craft Construction 2

Labor is perhaps the biggest challenge in south Florida. The high level of building activity in Miami-Dade County gives an edge to general contractors who have existing relationships with local subcontractors and are better able to secure laborers.

Further, the nature of the manpower itself is different from most other markets. Few laborers are unionized, which has led to a rise in subcontractors paying their workers according to how much of a job they’ve completed – called piece work – rather than by the hour. Piecework is great for avoiding cost overruns but it can encourage workers to skimp on time-consuming detail work.

It’s an issue that many out-of-town general contractors struggle to grasp, but Craft Construction has experience working in that environment and understands how to counteract the problem. The company has identified subcontractors that can manage piecework efficiently and have strong supervisors, while less familiar contractors tend to throw more bodies at the problem to ensure the work is completed properly.

Knowing how to handle those kinds of situations is why clients turn to Craft Construction. “It’s all South Florida experience,” Harden says. “We’re extremely versed in building and what it takes to get a building done with quality and speed in South Florida.”

Craft Construction’s expertise and reputation in the region have made it a go-to general contractor for hotel projects. Hotels now make up 75 percent of the company’s profile. Other recent projects include the 142-room Wyndham Garden Inn in Dania Beach, Fla., ALOFT Hotel in Aventura, Fla., Four Seasons Community House and Pool Cabana in Parkland, Fla., AC Hotel by Marriott and Fairfield Suites in Doral, Fla., and the 127-room Hampton Inn near Miami International Airport. The Hampton Inn opened in mid-October while the Wyndham has topped out at seven stores and is on track to open next February.

Cultivating Relationships

By sticking to a modest project load of about six buildings at any one time and staying in the south Florida market, Barry Craft and Steve Harden can deliver on their promise to provide personal service. Craft attends two out of every four weekly owner meetings for all projects while Harden visits all the job sites every week to attend meetings in-person. Both Craft and Harden are very big on staying current on all projects. “We never want to be in a situation where an owner asks us about an issue before we have heard and are working on a resolution,” Harden says.

Further, every job has a full-time project coordinator, superintendent, project manager and sometimes even an assistant project manager on site every day to ensure building standards are met.

By having all those team members directly involved in a project, Craft Construction ensures that clients receive a high level of service and are more likely to become repeat customers. “We target the developers we can build and maintain a relationship with and that do continual work in our area,” Harden says.

Just as it cultivates its clients, Craft Construction also strives to build lasting relationships with subcontractors. Companies such as Champion Glass, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based installer of hurricane-resistant windows, have proved their worth on multiple projects. Most recently, Craft Construction enlisted Champion Glass to install windows for the Wyndham Garden Inn project in Dania Beach.

“They did one half of the building in one weekend, meaning a Saturday, and they glazed the second half the next weekend,” Harden says. In all, the window installation took only three working days, minimizing interruption to the other work going on around the site. “We orchestrated that with them and it worked out very well with them and us,” Harden says.

Reliable and fast work like the kind Champion Glass performed on the Wyndham helps Craft Construction beat deadlines and strengthen client relationships. The Miami Airport Hampton, for example, was turned over a month ahead of schedule, allowing the hotel to open earlier and start earning revenue. Staying on schedule is especially important for tourism-driven markets such as south Florida that have well-defined busy seasons. A delayed building can put the financial viability of the entire project in jeopardy. “If we can get the hotels open for that peak season it makes it a hell of a lot easier to get repeat business,” Director of Business Development Amy Jennings says.

With new projects popping up all over Miami-Dade County, Craft Construction must add to its family of subcontractors to keep pace and ensure it continues to deliver projects on time. “We have a pretty nice sub base going on and we’re expanding that every chance we can,” Jennings says.

Craft Construction knows that no two projects are exactly alike and that every project has its own unique challenges. Maintaining its flexibility of service and effectively working with its subcontractors helps to manage those unique projects challenges. “We always want to distinguish Craft Construction from our competitors,” Barry Craft says. 

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