Tutor Perini – Dalmar/Element Hotel

Tutor Perini pixTutor Perini is building a dual brand hotel for downtown Fort Lauderdale.

By Tim O’Connor

With winds approaching 100 mph, Hurricane Irma was a destructive force in south Florida – and a source of fear for the project teams whose building sites were potentially exposed to the storm’s full wrath.

At 299 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., just north of Miami, crews began preparing the new Dalmar/Element Hotel for the hurricane on Sept. 5, five days before it made landfall. By Sept. 8, the contractor, Tutor Perini, determined it had done everything it could and sent its field crews home to prepare their own families for the storm. When workers finally returned on Sept. 18, they found that their preparations had been rewarded.

“We’re very fortunate in the fact that we had just started hanging drywall so we had very little water damage,” Project Executive Scott Prince says. The project lost 14 days on its schedule, but the building remained intact. “We work as hard as we can to mitigate any weather delays but this one is insurmountable,” he continued.

The care Tutor Perini demonstrated in protecting the job site from the hurricane represents why developers such as Wurzak Hotel Group put so much trust in the company. Like many good business relationships, the one between Tutor Perini and Wurzak Hotel Group began with a referral.

At the time, the Wurzak Hotel Group’s noticed the high-quality work being done on a new W hotel in Philadelphia. The company asked the hotel’s developers who was overseeing construction and was soon introduced to Tutor Perini. The father-and-son team that runs Wurzak Hotel Group, Howard and Jake Wurzak, soon chose Tutor Perini to build its new hotel development in Fort Lauderdale. “In the initial meetings, the Wurzaks and I really hit it off,” Prince says. “From there, the relationship has grown.” Tutor Perini box

In building the Dalmar/Element Hotel, Tutor Perini is serving as the general contractor with a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) at risk agreement, guaranteeing that the company will deliver the project within its $60 million construction budget. “There’s a relationship of trust and knowing we have his best interests in mind,” Prince says of Jake Wurzak, who lives in Fort Lauderdale and is on-site nearly every day. “He’s relying on us to stay on budget, stay on point and get the best project he can for the money he’s spending.”

Dual Brand Hotel

The 24-story project will cover 411,000 square feet with 323 rooms split between the two hotels: 114 rooms for Element and 209 for Dalmar. Amenities include a sixth floor pool and deck, a garden and 12,000 square feet of meeting space. The complex will include a 4,000-square-foot yoga studio business and two restaurants: The Sparrow on the rooftop and The Terrace on the ground floor.

Tutor Perini broke ground on the hotel in September 2016 and it is on pace to open in May 2018. As of the end of September, crews were pouring the final floors and preparing to top out the structure by the middle of October.

Reaching this milestone in the construction process has overcome several challenges. Dual brand hotels are becoming more popular in the United States, but they still require a few special considerations. The project was initially conceptualized as a home for two Starwood Hotels & Resorts brands: Element, which was retained in the final plan, and Aloft, a more stylized concept. However, Aloft was ultimately dropped in favor of The Dalmar, a boutique brand with no previous locations.

Because it’s the first of its kind, there are no set model or defined requirements for the Dalmar brand. An interior designer that is acting independently from the architect of record must conceptualize the hotel from scratch. “We’re not following someone else’s plan, we’re making decisions as we go,” Prince says.

Dalmar is intended to be a four- or four-and-a-half-star experience with upgraded finishes, custom furniture, softer towels, improved toilet fixtures. Conversely, Element follows a master design from its parent company for a standard three-star extended stay hotel.

With no blueprint to follow, there are occasionally moments where Tutor Perini must act as the arbitrator, balancing the hotel designer’s desire to create with the realities of cost and constructability. “You’ve got to reach that compromise with a little more spending on the developer’s part and a little less extravagance on the designer’s part,” Prince says.

Fortunately, the comfort between Tutor Perini and the Wurzaks eases the decision-making process. “He [Jake Wurzak] looks to us to give him the answers,” Prince says. “He values all our input. The trust in that relationship is huge. When you have that kind of relationship you can speak more freely about how things should come together and make decisions together.”

Skilled Subcontractors

Just as it wants to mesh with its clients, Tutor Perini wants to work with subcontractors that create good relationships. The company looks for subs with proven track records, financial stability and experienced management teams.

Those qualities are especially important to overcome the inherit challenges of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market. The city is a hot spot for building projects and laborers are in high demand. By working with established local companies, Tutor Perini is better able to get the workers it needs. “You want to work with skilled subcontractors who have access to labor,” Prince explains.

But south Florida subcontractors have their quirks. It’s common practice in the market for trade companies to pay their laborers based on the numbers of pieces they install, rather than by the hour. This helps keep costs aligned with projections since people are paid only as work is completed, but it has the unintended consequence of encouraging laborers to skip time-consuming detail work to maximize their paychecks. “Piece work has become the biggest challenge in getting work completed,” Prince says.

To address the issue in future projects, Prince says Tutor Perini will rework contracts to change the amount of subcontractor internal supervision and the commitment to completion of work that will be required. “If they do piece work, it’s not going to require just one supervisor on the project but an additional detail supervisor to make sure the work gets completed,” he said.

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