A trip to the top of Boise
From the outset, the effort to overhaul Grove Plaza and its surrounding buildings in Downtown Boise was going to be complicated. Too complicated for the developer, Gardner Co., to bother soliciting bids from general contractors.
Gardner executive Tommy Ahlquist, seeing a market need for more office space and public officials’ desires for a transit center and expanded convention space, proposed to expand the Boise Centre convention center by adding a 10-story building, an underground bus station and parking in the plaza’s northeast corner.
The project would need approvals from multiple local-government agencies, coordination of scheduling and subcontractors, and intense construction activity in a small, busy space.
It was spring 2014. Meridian’s Engineered Structures Inc. had just wrapped up the construction of Gardner’s Eighth & Main, the tallest building in the state, a block away from Grove Plaza. Gardner needed a general contractor that could be flexible, and it knew ESI could be, says David Wali, Gardner executive vice president.
“We went to ESI simply because of the past relationship,” Wali says. “Another contractor couldn’t come in at that point and say, ‘We know how Gardner operates, so we’ll do it.’ Nobody else we’ve engaged with locally could respond to our needs in this way.”
Three years later, remaking of the buildings around The Grove Plaza is done. The Associated General Contractors, a national trade group, was so impressed with the City Center Plaza project that, before completion, it honored ESI with a merit award for a new building project valued between $10 million and $99 million. (AGC said the project cost $67 million.)
‘A budget on a napkin’
Three years ago, Gardner shared its rough sketch of the project with ESI, the city of Boise, the Capitol City Development Corp., the Greater Auditorium District and Valley Regional Transit, which would operate the bus station.
David Bowar, an ESI senior project manager who became the contractor’s lead on the project, says everybody at the table talked over the square footages and building features each wanted. Everybody was comfortable going to work with an incomplete design.
“That evolved again in a short period of time to get to a budget with literally no plans to work from,” Bowar says. “It was a budget on a napkin. The decision was made very quickly to proceed.”
Eventually, the parties hammered out plans for the City Center Plaza project that stands today:
▪ The nine-story Clearwater Building, which includes the headquarters of Clearwater Analytics, office space for other businesses, and Boise State University’s computer science department.
▪ The Main Street Station underground bus station.
▪ The five-story Boise Centre East, an expansion of the convention center that includes a ballroom, meeting rooms and a kitchen for catering. .
▪ Two levels of parking in Boise Centre East below the ballroom.
ESI built them all.
The City Center Plaza project included a skybridge that ties the Boise Centre to Boise Centre East. The buildings and skybridge overlook the revamped Grove Plaza, with its new fountain, where Alive After 5 returned June 7 and other Downtown events will follow.
Associated General Contractors spokeswoman Nahee Rosso says the judges who decided to honor the project were struck by its complexity and how ESI met deadlines despite a labor shortage.
“Ultimately, [judges] felt that this was one of the projects that represents what highly skilled contractors and their craft workers are capable of accomplishing,” Rosso says.
One problem: Where to put the crane
The construction work was full of struggles.
One was the tight quarters that made it hard to move materials into and out of the site, Bowar says.
Construction of the transit center extended two lanes and 26 feet deep under Main Street to the north. The work came within 15 feet of two sides of the U.S. Bank Building and within 14 feet of CenturyLink Arena to the south, leaving little elbow room for a 312-foot-high crane brought to the site.
ESI planned to place the crane in the middle of the 10- and five-story buildings where its 186-foot jib could deliver heavy materials to both. But before erecting the crane, the ESI team figured out that it would be impossible to take down once the buildings were completed.
So ESI placed the crane in the center of Clearwater Building, which meant materials had to be moved several times before reaching Boise Centre East. ESI also used a smaller crane on Capitol Boulevard to set trusses.
The area excavated for the underground transit center needed enough room for eight buses to circulate using a ramp up to Main Street. Buses can’t handle steep grades, so the ramp needed to be long and gradual. Working space for construction was cramped.
What’s more, the project was completed in stages. That meant some floors of the Clearwater Building were under construction while tenants occupied others. With labor in short supply, ESI leaned on its subcontractors to work overtime and on weekends to meet deadlines.
Administration and logistics were unusually complex. ESI had to manage work crews for six projects in the construction area, each with different workers from among the roughly 100 subcontracting and supply companies on the site.
“In terms of writing contracts, administering project documentation and dividing up the dollars, it becomes very complicated, Bowar says.
Bowar and his team spent 30 months on the project, including two years of construction. The project started in September 2014, two months late, but was completed on deadline two years later.
In December 2015, his daughter was born.
“I can remember being in St. Luke’s, looking out the window of the delivery room, and I could see the project,” he says. “And, of course, the guys are still calling.”
City Center Plaza facts
Total square footage
Truckloads of earth removed
Cubic yards of concrete
Tons of structural steel
Peak number of workers on site