The Top Starts ranking of the Southeast’s largest projects under way is a yearly glimpse into the heart of a regional market. From owners and contractors, to sectors and geographic hot spots, Top Starts inevitably showcases the forces and players driving work for the Southeast’s construction and design firms.

Public Sector This Veterans Administration Medical Center project in Orlando, Fla., illustrates the influences of the public sector and health care on this year’s ranking.
Image Of The Wolfson Children’s Hospital Courtesy Of Batson-cook Co.
Public Sector This Veterans Administration Medical Center project in Orlando, Fla., illustrates the influences of the public sector and health care on this year’s ranking.

For a few years now, major private-sector projects have been few and far between in the Southeast. Recent figures from McGraw-Hill Construction, the parent of ENR, bear this out. For example, the value of new nonresidential contracts in the Southeast fell as little as 12% in Georgia and as much as 27% in Florida, compared with 2009 totals.

The prospects for 2011 are more upbeat. McGraw-Hill Construction projects a 9% overall improvement in new contracts in Florida, while Georgia and South Carolina are expected to bounce back by 40% and 43%, respectively. North Carolina, meanwhile, could decline by about 5% overall, McGraw-Hill reports.

For the time being, contractors continue to endure market realities, but Top Starts holds out hope.

Power Surge?

Power is one market showing signs of increased activity. Last year’s ranking included just under $700 million of energy-related contracts. This year, the cumulative value of projects is more than $15 billion—although $14 billion of that total is attributed to this year’s top-ranked contract, Southern Co.’s new Plant Vogtle nuclear power project.

The Plant Vogtle project could be the start of a long-term nuclear renaissance that could bring about numerous Southeast projects. As Joseph “Buzz” Miller, executive vice president for nuclear development for Southern Nuclear, says, “We want to build several more reactors. Nuclear is a great source of power, and we’re looking at possible sites across the Southern [Company] system.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy’s recently announced $26-billion merger plan with Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy brings together two firms already inclined toward increased nuclear generation.

Overall, however, the power market is still being held back by the economy, says Keith Manning, executive vice president at Zachry, the contractor for the $400-million FPL project on this year’s ranking.

“It’s certainly far from robust, given the decline in both industrial and residential power demand,” he says, adding that regulatory uncertainty is also hampering activity.

Manning says the most active portions of the power market revolve around gas-fired power generation—due to the declining price of natural gas—and biomass. “We continue to see biomass opportunities,” Manning says. However, because that market is dominated by developers seeking power-purchase agreements from utilities, “the opportunities are going to be situational,” he says, and dependent upon a quality feedstock, as well as financing. This year’s ranking includes a biomass project in Georgia, which has been especially focused on this emerging fuel source.

Health Care

Another prominent sector on this year’s ranking is health care. Numerous contractors have attempted to maneuver their way into this market in recent years, and for good reason. The health-care market remains one of the more consistent ones in the Southeast and has again landed numerous contracts on this year’s ranking. But even here, optimism is restrained.

“We’re guardedly optimistic about increased activity,” says Ed Smith, executive vice president for health care at Charlotte, N.C.-based BE&K Building Group.

“We’re seeing financing being loosened up, allowing projects that were [previously] stalled to move forward,” he adds. In fact, the $94.7-million Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Newnan, Ga., listed on this year’s Top Starts ranking, is an example of improved prospects for financing. “Because of uncertainty with the financial market, it sat mothballed for about a year,” Smith says. “We’re seeing projects like that come off the shelf and get released.”

Though Smith describes health-care owners as “fairly bullish,” uncertainty due to national politics is continuing to affect construction, he says. “The change in Congress has created additional discussion. We still see the market as up in the air, and that’s what we’re hearing from our clients,” he says.

Another contractor active in the health-care sector sees some cause for optimism. Dan McGonaghy, executive vice president for Gilbane Building Co., says providers are expecting to change the way they deliver health care. “Out of that change is going to come some opportunity. I’m fairly confident of that,” he says.

“We’re seeing financing being loosened up.”
—Ed Smith, executive vice president, BE&K Building Group

The Southeast, in particular, is generating numerous “hybrid” projects that feature components of health care, higher education and life sciences. That’s mostly due to availability of funding, says Smith.

“The Southeast seems to be fairly robust compared with other regions of the country,” Smith says.

“Research and development seems to be picking up,” adds Gary Stradowski, vice president in Turner Construction Co.’s Charlotte office, which just landed a $60-million energy infrastructure research project at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

The List

This year’s Top Starts ranking includes the top 25 projects in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas that started construction last year. ENR used multiple sources to create the list, including McGraw-Hill Construction’s Dodge database, submissions from contractors and designer firms and previous news reports. Clearly these projects and players will be fueling the Southeast’s construction market in the year to come.

Top Starts In The Southeast
Rank 2010 Project/
Project Cost Start Date/
End Date
Prime Contractor
1 Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Units 3 and 4
Burke, Ga.
$14 billion 2010
2016, 2017
The Southern Co.
Stone & Webster Construction
2 Walt Disney World Fantasyland Expansion
Walt Disney World, Fla.
$650 million
Apr. 2010
Jan. 2013
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
Hoar Construction Co.
3 Port of Miami Tunnel
$607 million May 2010
May 2014
Florida Dept. of Transportation
Bouygues Civil Works Florida
4 FPL Cape Canaveral Repower 1250 MW 3X1
Titusville, Fla.
$400 million July 2010
Spring 2013
Zachry Corp.
5 South System Expansion III
$350 million Feb. 2010
June 2012
Southern Natural Gas Co.
El Paso Energy Corp.
6 Legoland Florida
Winter Haven, Fla.
$300 million
Sept. 2010
Oct. 2011
Merlin Entertainment Group
PCL Construction Services
7 Veterans Administration Medical Center Hospital
Orlando, Fla.
$260 million Oct. 2010
U.S. Veterans Administration
Brasfield & Gorrie
8 Turnpike Service Plazas Reconstruction
Broward, Palm Beach and Sumter counties, Fla.
$162 million Nov. 2010
June 2014
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise
Stride Contractors (OHL USA)
9 Georgia Biomass Wood Pellet Plant
Waycross, Ga.
$160 million Apr. 2010
Georgia Biomass LLC
BMC Consultancy
10 Moses Cone Memorial Hospital Tower
Greensboro, N.C.
$140 million Oct. 2010
May 2013
Moses Cone Memorial Health Systems
Brasfield & Gorrie
11 Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel Casino Renovation/Expansion
Cherokee, N.C.
$130 million Late 2010
Spring 2013
Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel Casino
Turner Construction Co.
12 EnviroFocus Technologies Battery Recycling Facility Expansion
Tampa, Fla.
$120 million Feb. 2010
Gopher Resource
13 Myrtle Beach International Airport Terminal
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
$118 million Dec. 2010
Dec. 2012
Horry Co. Airport Commission
M.B. Kahn Construction Co.
14 Davie Water/Wastewater Plant Expansion
Davie, Fla.
$108 million Aug. 2010
May 2013
Town of Davie
15 Douglas Co. Adult Detention and Law Enforcement Facility
Douglasville, Ga.
$101.8 million Nov. 2010
Douglas Co. Board of Commissioners
JV: Turner/New South Construction
16 Wolfson Children’s Hospital Adult Tower
Jacksonville, Fla.
$100 million Oct. 2010
Oct. 2012
Baptist Medical Center
Batson-Cook Co.
17 Piedmont Newnan Hospital Replacement Facility
Newnan, Ga.
$94.7 million Apr. 2010
Feb. 2012
Piedmont Newnan Hospital
BE&K Building Group
18 Wesley Chapel Medical Center
Wesley Chapel, Fla.
$82 million Dec. 2010
July 2012
Advantist Health Systems
Robins & Morton
19 South Miami Hospital Clinical Expansion
$80 million June 2010
June 2014
Baptist Health South Florida
Arellano Construction Co.
20 Venice High School
Venice, Fla.
$78 million Nov. 2010
Dec. 2013
School Board of Sarasota Co.
Mills Gilbane
21 Student-Athlete Center for Excellence
Chapel Hill, N.C.
$76 million June 2010
Aug. 2011
The Educational Foundation
T.A. Loving Co.
22 U.S. Route 17 Widening/ACE Basin Parkway
Jacksonboro, S.C.
$75.8 million June 2010
June 2013
S.C. Dept. of Transportation
The Lane Construction Corp.
23 Florida Marlins Stadium Parking
$73 million June 2010
Dec. 2011
City of Miami
Suffolk Construction Co.
24 S.R. 408/417 North Interchange Improvements
Orlando, Fla.
$69.2 million Oct. 2010
Dec. 2012
Orlando-Orange Co. Expressway Auth.
The Lane Construction Corp.
25 Riverbend Correctional Facility
Milledgeville, Ga.
$68.9 million Aug. 2010
Dec. 2011
Geo Group
New South Construction
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