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Promise fulfilled

Originally planned as a hotel in 1906, the Fulton Building in Pittsburgh fulfills its original promise

October 01, 2001 |

When seen initially on a rainy January day by its eventual owner and developer, the Fulton Building, a 95-year-old office building in downtown Pittsburgh, was surrounded by blight. But 41 months later, the redeveloped historic landmark became the latest jewel in the Marriott Renaissance Hotel chain with strong customer acceptance. The 14-story former office building is located in the heart of the city's revived cultural district and across the Allegheny River from the baseball Pirates' new PNC Park and the football Steelers' new Heinz Field (see "Sports projects on the dole," March 2001, page 10).

In short, Denver-based Sage Hospitality Resources, the building's owner, developer and manager, is thrilled with its investment. "It's the finest hotel we've developed to date. I could sit in the lobby for hours and admire it," says Kenneth Geist, Sage executive vice president. "It should be highly successful if the last several months are any indication."

According to Michael Coolidge, Sage's vice president of development and project manager, the hotel has received high marks for guest satisfaction and complimentary reviews.

"All the historical aspects of the building were restored in spectacular fashion," says Coolidge. "One of the reasons we chose the building was its uniqueness, from the lobby's marble and glazed dome to the exterior courtyard's copper cladding. In some ways, it came out even better than anticipated."

Preserve and protect

The successful outcome did not come easily, however. General contractor Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., worked to accomplish the wants of the owner/developer in renovating the dilapidated office building, whose main tenant was a popular dance club, with requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior guidelines for historic renovation. Preservation of numerous elements of the building was necessary for placement of the building on the National Register of Historic Places, and to ensure that the developer would recoup $7 million in federal tax credits for preserving the building. According to Coolidge, the tax credits made redevelopment of the venerable building economically feasible (see "Building on tradition," page 23).

Consultants and subcontractors were coordinated to ensure that the $50 million redevelopment was completed in time for the start of the 2001 baseball season. Simultaneous reconstruction of Fort Duquesne Boulevard, on which the hotel fronts, and of a parking garage across Sixth Street from the building severely limited access to the building. Because the building had no loading dock, materials and equipment had to be brought in through the front entrance.

To foster coordination, Hensel Phelps; the owner's representative, Celli Flynn Brennan Architects and Planners of Pittsburgh; and the architecture firm JG Johnson Architects Inc. of Denver met frequently with consultants and subcontractors to plan design and construction before and during the building phase.

The 231,600-sq.-ft. building was an ideal candidate for redevelopment into a hotel because it originally was designed to be a hotel, but never became one until this renovation. "We don't like to buy old hotels," says Geist, "because old plumbing and electrical come with them. This way you get an historic hotel that also looks and feels like a new boutique."

Design hinges on M/E/P needs

While the building's double-loaded corridors system lent themselves to a hotel, its age and condition required replacement of all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (M/E/P) systems. Significant upgrades to fire/life-safety systems were also necessary to bring the building into code compliance.

"The M/E/P and fire protection were integral parts of the renovation process," says William Thumm, project engineer for Hensel Phelps. "Where the lines are run through the building affects its design and renovation."

With M/E/P playing a critical role, Pittsburgh-based M/E/P companies Sauer Inc. and Dodson Engineering Inc. teamed to perform the work as specialty design/build. "There was a lot of coordination between the M/E/P design/builders and the interior designer (Wilson & Associates of Dallas) and architect," says Celli Flynn Brennan's project manager, William Brennan.

Thumm also credits the work of the owner's M/E/P consultant, Thomas Gilbertson of Thomas A. Gilbertson & Associates of Moraga, Calif., saying, "It's rare, but the building's maintenance manager actually likes his system."

The M/E/P system consists of two 300-ton central chillers in the basement. The units are water-cooled and connected to two induced-draft cooling towers on the roof, according to David Casciani, Sauer's vice president and division manager, northeast division. The M/E/P infrastructure was installed through the shaft of a decommissioned elevator.

The heating source is provided by a central-steam distribution system in Pittsburgh. The steam produces hot water, which is transported through a modified four-pipe fan-coil system that supplies heating and cooling for rooms.

Two rooftop heat-recovery units exhaust the bathrooms and supply tempered outside air to the building. A central air-handler services the restaurant, meeting rooms and public areas.

The building is controlled by direct-digital-control and temperature-control systems.

Renovation of high-end materials

The hallmark of the building's interior is its lobby, which is covered in marble and features a mosaic tile ceiling. Years of neglect and the lobby's recent use as a dance club and cigar bar resulted in significant damage and nicotine buildup, which required repair and cleaning by Columbia Marble Co. of Pittsburgh.

A large, glazed, cast-iron, compression-ring dome above the lobby also was restored.

Extensive cleaning and restoration was conducted on the building exterior's pink granite. But the most striking exterior restoration involved the building's copper-clad exterior that covers the U-shaped building's interior courtyard. The 28,000-sq.-ft. restoration is said to be the largest in the United States since the Statue of Liberty. "We saw the copper cladding as one of the stronger assets of the building," says Brad Bull, the architect's project manager. A performance specification was written for the cleaning and restoration, which was conducted by Ralph J. Meyer Co. of Pittsburgh. A dry soda blast was used to clean the copper.

Ralph J. Meyer also performed the replacement of the entire terra-cotta roof (see "A repeat role for terra-cotta tile roof," below).

Windows were restored where possible or replaced by Window Systems Inc. of Pittsburgh, according to the requirements of the Interior Department guidelines (see "Window restorations help preserve yet modernize historic buildings," July 2001, page 106).

Nearly a century after being built, the Fulton Building and Pittsburgh are in the midst of an economic renaissance. Ironically, the Fulton's reincarnation as the Renaissance Hotel makes a significant contribution to this revival, an example in structural steel of the city's proud past and promising future.

Construction Costs

Preconstruction services $78,270
Warranty allowance 10,563
General conditions 1,379,497
Demolition/abatement 1,748,285
Concrete/concrete reinforcement 572,730
Labor for MBEs 813,296
Interior stone restoration/masonry 910,831
Structural/ornamental metals 1,066,371
Finish carpentry 1,112,120
Built up/tile/copper roofing 1,201,207
Copper cleaning 133,672
Dome restoration/miscellaneous glass 121,863
Doors/hardware 844,880
Aluminum storefront/glazing 218,808
Exterior punched windows 792,599
Floor-medallion restoration 47,066
Gypsum board/acoustical ceiling 3,334,677
Ceramic/quarry tile 770,218
Painting/vinyl-wall covering install 509,925
Elevators/maintenance 956,689
M/E/P 6,704,539
Fire protection/fire pump 431,271
Electrical 3,628,440
Miscellaneous costs 1,305,397
TOTAL $28,693,212

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