Monday, February 22, 2010

City Center jobs come slowly

Convention hall contractors expect to employ up to 3,000 By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • February 22, 2010 Work on a new downtown convention center will become much more visible next month, gradually creating thousands of jobs over the next three years, project managers said. Mayor Karl Dean and other supporters sold the $585 million Music City Center project as a stimulus package for Nashville, where the unemployment rate is about 10 percent. They've said the project should create 2,500 to 3,000 jobs, with 800 to 1,000 people on-site at peak times. About 100 people are working on the job already, said Gary Schalmo, project director and senior vice president with Bell/Clark/Harmony, the general contractor. They're working on plans and shop drawings, procurement and other tasks. Excavation work will start around March 1, bringing 20 people or so to the construction site south of Sommet Center and First Baptist Church. An additional 100 workers will start putting up the 1.2-million-square-foot building's concrete frame in April or May. Schalmo said the concrete work would stretch into 2011. About 400 workers should be on-site by the end of this year, with more working behind the scenes. "It won't be a huge work force until we get the frame up," he said. "It'll be a pretty constant ramp-up of about 40 (workers) a month." Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell said he remains concerned that many of the contracts and individual jobs could go to companies and people who don't do business or live here. "I take everyone at their word, but until it happens, I still have that concern," Mitchell said. "The profit is going back to wherever that business is from. I'm looking for those 3,000 jobs to be Nashvillians for the most part or Middle Tennesseans, and for the contracts to be the same way." Schalmo and Larry Atema, Metro's senior project manager, said some of the contracts would have to go to firms that aren't based in Nashville. For example no local company is capable of doing $30 million to $40 million of concrete work on an "intense" schedule, they said. "There will be times when a national firm will need to be relied upon," Atema said. Local workers wanted But out-of-town firms will want to hire mostly local workers so they can avoid housing costs, Atema said, and many will form joint ventures with local companies that can do specific jobs. For instance the electrical subcontractor could hire a local firm to put in all of the electrical cables for the convention center's fire alarms. Atema said the economic downturn also would ensure the availability of local workers. That wasn't always the case when Metro built LP Field in the late 1990s, an economic boom time. "There are enough local workers to get this job built," Atema said. He said it had been "sobering" to see how many out-of-work project managers — people he's known or heard about for years — were applying for jobs on the convention center project. The project team will start sending companies the bid requirements for some contracts today. It will continue that process through June 1 as it looks to bring in qualified firms to install everything from structural steel and plumbing to elevators and bathroom fixtures. All subcontractors should be on board by October, Schalmo said. Bell/Clark/Harmony has guaranteed Metro that construction itself won't cost more than $415 million. The contractor will be on the hook for any overruns. The city has already spent about $20 million on the project and has $150 million in remaining costs beyond construction, such as land acquisition, design and relocation of a Nashville Electric Service substation. Metro is paying for the project with a municipal bond issue. It will pay the debt created by the bond issue with revenues collected from tourists. If the tourist revenues fall short, the city will tap a $130 million-a-year pool of general fund revenues — excluding property and sales taxes — to make up the difference.

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