City debates downsizing, but finds downside

August 11, 2010

Tacoma Convention Center

Tacoma, Wash.

The prospect of reduced tourism and travel in the sluggish economy has spurred Tacoma city officials to re-evaluate the scope and size of the Tacoma Convention Center. At issue during a March 19 City Council meeting was whether to downsize the facility's exhibit space from 50,000 to 42,000 square feet to reduce the center's $49.5 million price tag, which is being partly funded with future parking revenues and a 7 percent hotel tax.

"The city has some new council members who requested an update on the design of the convention center and the competitive positioning of the center from a market standpoint," says Charlie Solverson, the city's project manager on the job. "The outcome was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the existing design."

Two consulting firms hired by the city, Property Counselors, Seattle, and C.H. Johnson, Chicago, concluded that short-term savings in construction would cost the city millions long term in lost tourism revenue.

Also at the meeting, members of the project team, including architect of record Merritt+Pardini, Tacoma, and general contractor Mortenson, Minneapolis, presented a design/construction cost comparison analysis of the current and reduced convention center.

Their findings show that although the reduction in space would lower construction costs by $3.4 million to $46.1 million, net savings would be just $1.2 million, after $1.5 million in redesign costs and $700,000 in escalated costs from delays are factored in.

"[A redesign] would delay the completion by at least six months," says Dave Brueggman, project manager with Merritt+Pardini. "The consultants determined that lost revenue over that period would equate to about $16 million."

Moreover, such a relatively small reduction to the building size means minimal short-term savings, says Suzanne Smith, preconstruction services manager with Mortenson.

"There are many costs that are not impacted by the small change in square footage. Approximately 20 percent of the construction cost is fixed," says Smith, explaining that it is largely because numerous components, such as site development do not change, while the mechanical and electrical systems have only minor impacts. "Although the amount of ductwork is reduced, the number of the chillers and boilers would be pretty much the same," she adds.

Project delays

Because the reassessment forced the building team to temporarily halt design work, it did cause some delay.

"Realistically, it did slow the design work down by a couple of weeks," says Solverson, who still expects the project to be completed in July 2004.

Brueggman says the design team completed 50 percent of the design development on March 1, and expects the final half to be finished by the end of May. "Then the construction document work begins, and that should be complete by January 2003," he adds.

Despite the delays, demolition contractor R.W. Rhine, Tacoma, continued work clearing the site, which includes demolition of 16 existing buildings.

"We kept pushing site preparation work," says Solverson. "They're half-way through, and we hope to start excavation work in the summer."

         
 

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