Private construction starts have all but evaporated, but public work continues to offer hope to contractors working along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Photo: Aero Photo
Kraft Construction is building a $35-million police station for the city of Sarasota.

From the Everglades to the Panhandle, construction activity along Florida’s Gulf Coast is suffering a major recession-induced headache, with little private investment available to keep contractors working.

“It’s slow,” says John Cammack, Skanska USA Building area general manager for Florida in Tampa. “It’s going to be a bleak year. If you ask anybody in the business, revenues are down and are not looking to go up through this time next year.”

Fred Pezeshkan, chairman and CEO of Kraft Construction (now part of Manhattan Construction) of Naples, agrees. “High-rise condos, office buildings, commercial and retail are pretty much nonexistent,” he says. “On the government side, there is activity but not as much as we hoped.”

Pezeshkan says he has not yet seen any stimulus dollars. Kraft is building a $35-million, 87,000-sq-ft, six-story police station and 200-car parking garage for the city of Sarasota and a $13.3-million, 224,181-sq-ft parking garage expansion at Channelside for the Tampa Port Authority. Both projects are scheduled for completion in 2010.

On the private side, Kraft is completing the $12.6-million first phase of a $25-million project at the Naples Botanical Garden.

“The majority of the work that we see coming out is government work,” adds Spike Lord, vice president of Lord & Son Construction in Fort Walton Beach, which recently bid on a fire station, other municipal projects and some school projects.

Alan Bomstein, president and CEO of Creative Contractors in Clearwater, also reports more public than private projects and some health-care work.

“Even so, our backlog is getting thinner,” Bomstein says. Owners have put on  hold several projects Creative Contractors has been awarded, including an assisted-living facility and a medical office building.

Federal Spending
“There is a lot of construction work at Eglin Air Force Base,” says Matt Boles, manager of the Northwest Florida Section Alabama Associated General Contractors in Pensacola, Fla.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Orlando received a $140-million contract and Far East Construction of Pensacola a $13-million contract for work on a new 7th Special Forces Complex at Eglin. The Hensel Phelps job includes constructing eight buildings, 4.5 mi of access roadway and the infrastructure development of the 350-acre site.

Also at the air base, several contractors are working on the Joint Strike Force complex. Among the larger awards, BL Harbert International received a $55-million contract to build the academic training center, and Carothers Construction of Oxford, Miss., holds a $21-million and another $37-million contract to build two hangars.

Carothers also received a $15-million contract to construct a two-story, 51,000-sq-ft Special Operations Command Central headquarters facility at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Clark Construction Group of Tampa is building a new $61-million, 252,000-sq-ft, four-story, structural-steel Central Command headquarters at MacDill.

Farther south, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is soliciting bids to construct a $131.8-million, 224,000-sq-ft outpatient clinic in Cape Coral.