M.J. Dean Construction

Between a rock and a hard place┬áAlthough thereÔÇÖs plenty of lucrative building work in Las Vegas, itÔÇÖs not always possible to get complete and unfettered access to the site, as Alan T Swaby learns. From a vacationerÔÇÖs point of view, possibly one of the biggest turn-offs possible is to find construction work taking place at the resort youÔÇÖve chosen. By the same token, few if any resort owners can afford to shut their premises down while major refurbishments are taking place. Somewhere in the middle is the contractor who has the responsibility of keeping both sides happy.Such is the case at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where local building contractor MJ Dean Construction Inc. is undertaking a $650 million expansion and renovation project. ItÔÇÖs not the first time this company has been asked to carry out a facilities expansion, but with 860 new guest rooms and suites in two high-rise towers plus 200,000 square feet of added meeting and convention space, 30,000 square feet of casino space and a new 1,440-space parking garage, itÔÇÖs certainly the greatest increase in size the hotel has so far seen.ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs fair to say that the novelty is wearing thin,ÔÇØ says senior project manager Duane Frerker, ÔÇ£and everyone involved with running the hotel is counting down the days to when the upheaval will be over. But thereÔÇÖs a very pragmatic way of working in Las Vegas, where everyone makes the best of the situation. WeÔÇÖve even had owners ask us to install windows in construction walls so guests could see what new and exciting things are on the way and how the work is progressing.ÔÇØUp until now, MJ Dean has never had to look very hard outside of Las Vegas to find work. The company, founded in 1989, recently completed the $250 million Eastside Cannery and has worked on the Panorama Towers, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo and the Sky Projects, along with numerous tenant improvements throughout Las Vegas.In this role, MJ Dean has adopted a slightly different working model from most. It holds sub-trade licenses and self-performs crucial elements of the project such as concrete, drywall, paint and wall covering, as well as external insulation and finishes, fireproofing, plus all doors and hardware. ÔÇ£On one hand,ÔÇØ says Frerker, ÔÇ£this gives us maximum control over quality, but itÔÇÖs also a useful tool for us to control the pace of the overall schedule, enabling us to contract or slow down work as the case may be.ÔÇØMJ Dean project director Travis Cubley recruited Frerker specifically to be part of the Hard Rock team. He has been in Las Vegas for 20 years and has seen a lot of outside contractors come and go. ÔÇ£With so much high-value building work taking place in Las Vegas,ÔÇØ he says, ÔÇ£thereÔÇÖs an obvious attraction for other contractors and subcontractors to try their luck. They try to import their own ways of managing projects to this town, but by and large they do one job and then drift away.ÔÇØFrerker defines the Las Vegas way of doing business as a true partnership between owners, architects and contractors where each party understands that many and varied changes will be made to a project as it progresses. ThereÔÇÖs no point in decrying this, thinks FrerkerÔÇöyou just have to accept it as part of the mix and make the best of it.┬á This is not to say that thereÔÇÖs a lack of professionalism in any of the three elements, but for many years hotel owners tended to be local entrepreneurial businessmen with plenty of money to spend and a penchant for getting what they wanted. The positive side of this arrangement, though, was that owners were capable of making instant decisions. No need to refer back to a board of directors or committee.Even in those times, though, there was a realization that nobody made any money while a casino was under construction. There was always an urge to get the project finished and start pulling in the gamblers. Frerker believes that contractors must be prepared to make changes at any stage while at the same time keeping owners well informed about the impact the changes will have on the overall schedule and budget.So far, the Hard Rock schedule is holding good. The conference rooms will be ready for business in March, the main concert venue will open in April, the hotel tower will come on stream in July and the suites tower will be open in December. Fencing is quickly coming down, and landscaping is putting the grounds back into shape. This is the direct result of the subcontractors, architect, consultants and owner all working together. By Las Vegas standards, the Hard Rock Hotel attracts a particularly young market. So a lot of the over-the-top chandelier-and-marble style of architecture normally found in Las Vegas resorts, which are continually trying to outdo each other, is not overly stated at the Hard Rock. Instead, it tries to capture a party feel where young (and young at heart) rockers like to hang out. The award-winning pool, which MJ Dean is working with Pacific Custom Pools to practically double in size, has more of a beach feel than a poolside. Small-scale niches and cabanas provide plenty of private space where groups can meet and socialize. And though the pool is surrounded by hotel towers, the largest is only 17 stories highÔÇömaking it feel almost cottage-like compared to the usual Las Vegas high-rise buildings.On many Las Vegas projects, itÔÇÖs possible to get access to the public areas not long after midnight to complete or start remodel work, but the younger audience at the Hard Rock likes to party late (or early, depending on your perspective). With the weekend starting on Thursday afternoon and peaking with the Sunday Rehab party, MJ Dean shifted its starting time to 4:00 am on the North Tower to avoid interrupting the activities at the pools.Challenges such as these are made all the easier for the company thanks to its huge pool of skilled tradesmen. When the ballroom needed drywalling, extra bodies were called in, and a job that would normally need two weeks was finished in four days. ÔÇ£We have a great mix of experienced foremen looking after work on the site,ÔÇØ says Frerker, ÔÇ£with energetic young project engineers handling the details, and seasoned project managers and superintendents guiding the projects. A project of this size requires a great team working together. WeÔÇÖve been able to stay ahead of schedule and work within the budgets because of the team we have here. I just hope the young guys donÔÇÖt get too distracted by what the hotel has to offerÔÇöat least until the project is complete.ÔÇØ ÔÇô Editorial research by Greg Petzold┬á