Public Works: Industry's Salvation
Throughout this issue of Southeast Construction, public works projects are front and center. Here, we provide a look at the strength of the market as a whole, and how contractors are fighting to win work in this critical construction sector.
As private-sector construction markets continue to sink, a wellspring of public-works projects is keeping at least some contractors throughout the Southeast afloat—for now.
Where condominiums, high-tech hospitals and towering office buildings used to rise, military, transportation and other civic-funded projects have taken their place, drawing floods of bidders with sinking prices.
“The public sector is the hottest market right now,” says Scott Skidelsky, vice president and general manager for Turner Construction’s Orlando office. “It’s the one area that has funding for projects. The larger projects coming up are all public-sector-funded projects.”
Turner, for starters, is currently building the $224-million Duval County Courthouse Facilities project in Jacksonville, Fla. Then there’s the $515-million Florida Marlins Stadium in Miami, a project that’s being joint-funded by Miami-Dade County and the Florida Marlins, and built by a joint venture of Moss & Associates of Fort Lauderdale and Hunt Construction Group, Indianapolis.
Hunt, along with Turner as program manager, is busy in Orlando building another major sports facility, the $280-million Orlando Events Center. The new arena for the Orlando Magic will be the crown jewel of the city’s more than $1-billion venues construction program, which also includes plans for a new performing-arts center and renovations to the existing Citrus Bowl.
Projects Through the Region Meanwhile, a collection of high-dollar and high-profile public-works projects are progressing across the four-state region.
On Southeast Construction’s most recent Top Project Starts ranking, for example, eight of the top 10 projects were publicly funded:
There’s the $617-million Salt Waste Processing Facility being built by the U.S. Dept. of Energy at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.; the $305-million South Cobb Tunnel contract of Shea-Traylor’s in Cobb County, Ga.; the Orlando Events Center project; the $212.9-million U.S. Southern Command Headquarters project in Doral, Fla., that Hensel Phelps Construction is constructing; the $139-million Hammond Road Detention Center in Wake County, N.C.; Miami-Dade’s $125.6-million North Terminal Development contract of MCM Dragados; and a pair of Interstate 95 projects in Florida totaling more than $300 million combined.
Perhaps in no other region has the shift been more dramatic than in Miami, the onetime epicenter of condo construction that is now feeling a severe hurt in an economy where there is little private work and heavy competition for public work.
Suffolk Construction Co., with offices in West Palm Beach and Miami, has been one of the lucky ones to find success winning projects on both sides.
For example, as it heads into the final stages of its $325-million Met 2 project in downtown Miami—which features 47 stories of offices and a 42-story hotel—Suffolk recently picked up a $92-million contract to build a parking garage at the new Florida Marlins complex, plus a $25-million contract to renovate and remodel Miami Dade College’s West campus.
“The opportunities are mostly on the public side,” says Rex Kirby, Suffolk Southeast region president and general manager. “There is little private work.”
Of course, it’s not just Miami that’s hurting for private work.
“Everybody is depending on (public works) because the private sector is nonexistent,” says Mike Dunham, executive vice president of the Georgia Branch of Associated General Contractors in Atlanta.
Bill Pinto, president of Atlanta-based Hardin Construction Co., says it’s a case of 2010 looking a lot like 2009. “The public and institutional markets will again be the place where a good bit of the work will happen,” he says.
Stimulus Boost Of course, providing a significant boost to public-works projects in the Southeast...