Contractor Jeffrey D. Wagner calls the $84-million AT&T Performing Arts Center Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre “far and away the most challenging” job in his 21-year career. The senior project manager in the Dallas office of McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. also speaks in superlatives about the design team responsible for the most unorthodox little theater in Dallas, in Texas or perhaps anywhere. He talks that way even though the building is packed inside and out with tough-to-build systems.

Key to Success at tough theater job Was extreme teamwork
Photo: Kristina Bowman

Wagner attributes his management success to serious team-building and cross-disciplinary collaboration among the multiform theater’s designers, suppliers and builders. “My job is to set the tone,” he says. “The key is to get everybody pulling the rope in the same direction.”

The heaviest of many weights on Wagner’s shoulders was the structure, a gravity-defying steel “bird cage” on concrete stilts that was not even remotely stable until it was complete. The novel frame is the reason Wagner dispensed with hiring low bidders and approached subcontractors he could trust. He also hired a sequential construction engineer. He gathered the project’s heavy hitters, including the engineer of record, for 20-plus meetings over 21 months to choreograph the steel-and-concrete show, which needed major props.

By flawlessly managing construction of the most innovative little theater just about anywhere, Wagner brought in the difficult project on budget and a month early.

One ace in the hole for McCarthy, which was CM at-risk on the job, was that it self-performed concrete work. That provided more control of quality and schedule, says Wagner.

Construction went off without incident, and the project was on budget. Substantial completion was achieved a month early on Aug. 31.

Calling McCarthy’s management of construction “flawless,” Doug Curtis, AT&T Performing Arts Center’s vice president of design and construction, says, “Jeff always assumed the attitude of resolving the most creative and economical way, and always in the [owner’s] best interest. On a project of this complexity, this is not an easy thing to accomplish.”

Wagner is currently working on a parking garage topped by a theater, near the Wyly. Its sloped walls are a challenge, he says, but “I wouldn’t compare it to the Wyly.” —NMP