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Before Designs Finalized, the 1,005-room JW Marriott Hotel
 Forges Ahead in Indianapolis
By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 5, 2008 - Renderings of the 1,005-room JW Marriott hotel show a curved slab of blue glass that will be Indiana's largest hotel when it opens in early 2011.

Right now the site is a 3-acre dry crater, thanks to the removal of 19,000 dump truck loads of dirt and 24 well pumps that keep the pit from filling with 8 feet of muddy groundwater and becoming Downtown's largest lake.

Matt Stump, who is overseeing the hotel's construction at West and Washington streets, stands in the pit near a cement mixer extruding its load and shares the pressure he is under to make the city-subsidized hotel a timely 34-story reality.

"My boss explained to me we've never missed a hotel opening date ever, and we're not going to start on the biggest hotel built by White Lodging," he said.

What Stump calls "not an easy gig" is a race against the clock that will be run by up to 700 workers during the project's busiest period late next year. On the site, they're also building three smaller hotels with 618 rooms that must open a year earlier to serve fans attending the 2010 collegiate basketball Final Four.

To meet the city-set deadlines, a fast-track construction schedule is in place. It calls for building the foundation and the immense three-story underground parking garage before designs on the hotels and ballrooms are completed.

"I am putting foundations in today and don't know what the walls and flooring on top of them will look like," Stump said. Construction drawings won't be done until January, but "we simply didn't have the luxury of time" to wait until then to break ground, he said.

Sticking out of the pit floor, for example, are white plastic water pipes that had to be installed before the exact locations of the bathrooms they serve were even known.

"Things are being literally cast in concrete below" while architects are still designing the hotel above, said Bill Sewall, construction manager for Hunt Construction Group, which is doing work on the JW Marriott for White Lodging. The design-while-building approach has become almost the norm in the construction business, given today's budgeting pressures, but Sewall admits it can make a construction manager's job nerve-racking. Designers "need to cease their 'what if' considerations" before construction gets too far along, he said.

The $425 million project -- awarded last year to Merrillville-based developer White Lodging and partner REI Real Estate Services of Carmel after a bidding process by the city -- is meant to serve the expanding Indiana Convention Center. The city is chipping in $48 million in taxpayer money to build the JW Marriott, which will be connected by walkway to the city-run convention center.

With the August completion of the $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium and the November opening of the new $1.1 billion Indianapolis International Airport terminal, the JW Marriott project becomes the city's largest construction project under way. With the economy also in a tailspin, it's a scenario that should enable the hotel project to attract low bids from contractors, Stump said.

"We have a lot of interest from bidders, I'll tell you that," he said.

The huge Marriott will be a tribute to concrete. It will rank as the city's tallest cast-in-place concrete building. Its weight will require a foundation of 500 tons of steel and so much concrete it will take 16 hours to pour. The continuous pour will start shortly after midnight Friday and will require up to 700 loads from a fleet of cement mixers.

The need for speed will affect the way the hotel's floors are poured.

Developers can't wait for the whole tower to be completed before starting interior work and installing the glass exterior. So the glass installation will start after the hotel is only six stories in the air, while temporary roofs will be built starting on the 12th floor to seal off lower floors from the rain and other elements. That will allow plumbing, electrical and heating systems and even drywall to be installed long before all 34 floors are poured, Sewall said.

ASI Ltd. of Whitestown, which won the contract to build and install the all-glass exterior, already is making a 22-foot-tall mock-up of the glass wall. It will be subjected to a stress test, required by the developer, to make sure the wall can hold up to extreme weather. The 12-day test, which includes putting the mock-up in a wind tunnel, will be performed at an independent lab near St. Louis in November or early December, said Ken Smith, owner of ASI.

Smith said his company should be ready in March to start ferrying the first of 7,600 glass panels, each weighing about 550 pounds, to the site for installation starting in April.

"It's going to change the skyline," he said of the hotel tower. "It's going to be a beautiful project."

Stump said the nearly rain-free late summer and early fall have helped keep the project on or ahead of schedule.

The 7-acre site also contained few buried obstacles, unusual for urban excavations that typically yield underground surprises like old building foundations.

"We did not find any major obstacles. A few cisterns," Stump said.


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