November 23, 2007
their chapters in Book-Cadillac's renovation
prevailing wage dont add up
times ahead for Michigan construction, says latest forecast
the key to new Soo lock
writing their chapters in Book-Cadillac's renovation
By Marty Mulcahy
DETROIT - The Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel is quite literally
coming out of its shell.
Just over a year ago, developer John Ferchill led a tour of
journalists through the ruins of the historic hotel. The tour
revealed what was common knowledge: a building that was once
Detroit's finest hotel had been reduced by the elements and urban
scavengers to a damp, stripped-down, dangerous structure whose
fate could have included a date with a demolition crew.
Instead, after some false starts in arranging financing, a
savior arrived last year in the form of a $180 million commitment
by a wide group of investors, which was led by the Cleveland-based
Fast forward to a year later, and the 33-story hotel, to be
operated by Westin hotels, is well on the road to rehabilitation.
The project is currently at peak construction activity, with
300 to 400 Hardhats on site on any given day.
"We're about 65 percent complete, and things are going
well," said Michael Schumaker, project manager - site division
for general contractor Marous Brothers Construction. Aside from
the shell of the building, he said. "nothing, nothing has
been retained. "Heating, cooling, electrical, windows. Everything
Schumaker said the renovation plan had the trades start on
floors 23 and 13, and work their way down floor by floor, then
in the same direction on each level. With the exception of the
suites on the top seven floors, the floor plans are all basically
the same, "so once you get all the bugs worked out, we started
to move quicker," he said.
Along the way, the trades, contractors and architects have
had to figure out how to hide wiring, wireless Internet antennas,
as well as plumbing and storm drains from the roof. "Michigan
has an abundance of good tradespeople, and we have a really good
crew here," said Schumaker, a Cleveland native.
Tracy Scott of Plumbers Local 98, project foreman for Western
Mechanical, said plumbers and the rest of the trades arrived
on the job about a year ago to find original interior walls torn
out and debris removed, leaving wide open spaces on each hotel
"The challenge we have is fitting modern plumbing code
into a building that was built in the 1920s," Scott said.
To start, they had to drill no less than 300 holes in each
floor: most through concrete, sometimes through steel plate.
With drain pipes, vent stacks and supply lines going up vertically
from floor to floor - and then usually in-between walls - there
is often only a 1/16th-inch gap of play for installation of larger
Not much room for error - and Scott said the situation is
complicated by the Book leaning an inch-and-a-half to the north.
"It doesn't sound like much, and it's not unusual for any
building to lean a little, but it has made for some interesting
moments for us," he said.
In the end, "tubs had to go where they had to go, and
walls had to go where they had to go," Scott said. "We're
making it work." One of the hotel's old elevator shafts
has been turned over for routing some of the building's mechanical
systems, and that has helped, he said.
The original boilers in the third level basement are still
in place, but they're being abandoned. The new building will
have new hot water heat and air conditioning.
A year ago, Ferchill said he didn't anticipate any surprises
structurally, since "there wasn't much left to uncover"
in the interior of the building. Earlier this month, Schumaker
said that has been the case, with a significant exception being
the need to replace decorative masonry "water table"
on the roof of the building.
Ferchill also said a year ago that the project had been slow
to start because of their inability to acquire an exterior elevator
- a buckhoist. "They're all in China," he said. One
was acquired, and these days, Schumaker said the lone buckhoist
on the west side of the building is the lifeline of the project.
"It's pretty reliable, but when it goes down the whole project
bottlenecks," he said.
With its mass of brick and other types of masonry features,
the trowel trades are playing a vital role in the project. Masons
are employed on the project by Western Waterproofing and Dixon
Masonry. Paul Misiolek is the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
Local 1 is foreman on the project, working for Western.
He said the Book was "built right" by craftsmen
in the 1920s. "The old guys did a really good job,"
he said, citing the intricate work and the use of "tie-in"
brick courses behind the exterior. "You don't have to worry
about the walls falling down on you."
Still, masonry will not maintain its integrity without some
maintenance - and
there is a tremendous amount of masonry rehabilitation necessary
at the Book. Starting at the top, masons have rebuilt the north
and south towers, "which were really bad" and needed
to be completely rebuilt, Misiolek said.
On the 23rd floor, the terra cotta water table feature was
found to be in bad shape - Misiolek said 532 lineal feet will
be replaced with a fiberglass look-a-like. Behind that, galvanized
steel will replace the rusting original steel to which that water
table was attached.
Moving down, much of the exterior brick of the hotel has been
cleaned, which has already made a dramatic difference in the
appearance of the building. Masons will lay 100,000 new brick
during the course of the project. The brick is made in Ohio with
a color the manufacturer had in stock, and combined with the
right shade of mortar, "you can barely tell that we did
any repairs," Misiolek said. The bricks did have to special-ordered:
the Book's bricks were eight inches long, modern bricks are slightly
About 75 percent of the Book's 2,000 window lentils are corroded,
and will be replaced with welded galvanized lentils. "They're
at various stages of disrepair," Misiolek said.
Moving down to the fifth floor, all the way around the building's
exterior are "capitals" - the tops of decorative terra
cotta columns that are also in various states of disrepair. Misiolek
said he has a "stone man" who used a laser and a laptop
computer to measure existing masonry pieces so that matching
replacements can be made.
Miscellaneous limestone will be repaired or replaced on the
fourth floor. Down on the first floor, openings will need to
be completely re-worked to accommodate the hotel's doors and
new storefronts, Misiolak said.
Misiolek said the biggest challenge for masonry workers on
the Book isn't replicating the old work, it's simply moving materials
with the hotel's single buckhoist - and keeping out of the way
of other trades. "We work inside and outside, and with some
of the trades finishing up, it's tougher to stage materials,"
he said. "We're always just trying to avoid gridlock."
He said restoring the Book to its former glory has been a
good experience. "I'm glad they decided to repair this hotel
instead of knocking it down," he said. "There are a
lot of nooks and crannies that are really decorative and ornate.
It's great that such a unique building is going to be retained."
Here's the book on the Book
Built in 1924, the storied Book-Cadillac was the tallest hotel
in the world and "Downtown's largest and arguably most beautiful
vacant skyscraper," says the Forgotten Detroit website.
"Long a rival to the Statler (demolished in 2005), the Book-Cadillac
offered 1,200 guest rooms and some of the most amazing interior
spaces in the city. It is the supreme symbol of 1920's Detroit's
wealth and optimism."
Continuing, "The Book-Cadillac featured five floors of
grand public rooms and shops. Among the amenities were large
lounges, three dining rooms, a coffee shop, three unique and
functional ballrooms, and a tea room. They were the most richly
decorated interiors found in any Detroit hotel."
The Book hosted Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and
Nixon, and baseball legends Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, among
many others. The hotel is near and dear to many in Southeast
Michigan, having been a major employer as well as the site of
numerous weddings and banquets.
The public spaces of the Book had gone through a number of
interior changes over the decades that it was open to attract
guests, but by the end of the 1970s, businesses leaving Detroit's
downtown spelled the end of the Book-Cadillac. It closed in 1984.
When the building was no longer guarded after a few years,
vandals stripped anything of value from the building and left
it open to the elements.
The new plans for the Book will include a 455-room luxury
hotel rooms and 67 lofts at the top of the hotel. According to
the Ferchill Group, the hotel will include three ballrooms, two
of which - the Grand Ballroom and the Italian Garden - "will
be restored to their original grandeur."
A third ballroom, at 11,000 square-feet with a seating capacity
for 1,000, will be added to the north side of the hotel. The
property will also have a swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness center,
as well as onsite retail and fine dining.
THE CLEANED UP BRICK on the massive Book-Cadillac
hotel in Detroit is the most striking aspect of the building's
exterior so far as the 33-story building is renovated. The Ferchill
Group, the project's developer, has vowed to reproduce as many
original interior finishes as possible in the hotel, which was
completed in 1924. Photo by Don Coles, Great Lakes Aerial Photos/(313)
REPLACING BRICK in the back of the Book-Cadillac
is Mike Walenciej of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local
1 and Western Waterproofing. The hotel is expected to reopen
in late September.
INSTALLING FLASHING near the "ziggurat"
architectural feature next to him atop the Book-Cadillac Hotel
in Detroit is Andy LaRoy of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 and
Detroit Cornice and Slate. The copper-encased ziggeraut, the
nice brick-work, and the use of copper on the base reproduce
the original architecture of the Book, whose designers spent
money on building features that would rarely be seen.
to prevailing wage dont add up
By Marty Mulcahy
"The prevailing wage law increases the cost of construction
by 10 percent to 15 percent, and the additional costs are passed
along to Michigan taxpayers." - Paul Kersey, The Mackinac
Center for Public Policy, Aug. 27, 2007.
"Prevailing wage" does not mean a fair-market
wage, but one artificially inflated by 40 percent to 60 percent
and arbitrarily determined by an ever-shrinking minority of the
- Guest opinion, Chris Fisher, Oakland Business Review, Oct.
LANSING - Opponents of Michigan's prevailing wage law - and
they're coming out of the woodwork in droves with our state's
slumping economy - claim that repealing the law will save taxpayers
anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent off the cost of a construction
The savings won't happen - and the estimates of how much will
be saved vary wildly because they're based on false premises.
So said Utah Professor Peter Phillips, who spoke at an Oct. 24
seminar sponsored by the Michigan Association for Responsible
Contracting. Phillips is a labor and industrial relations economist
and one of the nation's most respected presenters on prevailing
"We can't find a statistical difference in costs,"
Phillips said, when it comes to measuring the absence or presence
of prevailing wage laws on taxpayer-funded construction in various
Phillips studied the absence and presence of prevailing wage
laws for school construction in three states. Kentucky adopted
a prevailing wage law for school construction in 1996. Ohio repealed
its prevailing wage law for public school construction in 1997.
"And then we have Michigan, the poster child," Phillips
said. "They had it, they got rid of it. And then they took
it back. What more could a social scientist ask? Thank you Michigan."
A ruling by a federal judge revoked Michigan's Prevailing Wage
Act of 1965 for nearly three years before it was reinstated by
an appeals court in 1997.
"A study of the construction of 391 schools in these
three states, half built under prevailing wage laws and half
not, found no meaningful or statistically significant difference
in the cost of construction based on regulation," Phillips
wrote. Furthermore, he said construction at 4,000 schools across
the nation were examined, and he got the same result: no statistical
difference in costs.
"Opponents of prevailing wage laws say that these laws
significantly increase public construction costs - often by 25
percent or more," Phillips wrote in his study. "Conceptually,
these are doubtful claims."
The reason: on average, labor costs are only about 25 percent
of total construction costs. "So if you are going to save
25 percent on total costs by eliminating prevailing wage laws,
then everybody would have to work for free," Phillips said.
Often overlooked by the repeal prevailing wage crowd, Phillips
said, is the value provided by higher paid workers in the form
of added productivity. "Opponents of prevailing wage laws
assume that cheap labor and low-skilled labor is just as productive
as more expensive, skilled workers. This is just not true,"
Other factors, he said, include:
- Lower cost workers place more of a strain on society because
they don't pay as much in taxes, and don't enjoy a good level
- The long-term needs of the construction industry entail training
the next generation of workers, keeping this generation healthy
and providing for the old age of the last generation of workers.
Prevailing wage regulations force bidders on public works to
include all these costs in their bids.
- Prevailing wage regulations, by considering the future and
remembering the past, allows for the creation of construction
careers and retention of experienced workers in an inherently
unstable and casual industry.
"In short," Phillips wrote, "prevailing wage
regulations encourages the creation of a skilled workforce that
can afford to be members of the middle class with all that means
for social cohesion and economic growth. This benefits construction
and it benefits the communities in which construction workers
times ahead for Michigan construction, says latest forecast
By Marty Mulcahy
Time for a little construction conjecture.
As we move toward the end of the year, construction industry
prognosticators unfailingly pop up and take a stab at predicting
the future. One of the first we've seen is by Michigan Construction
News.com (MCN), which took a look back on 2007 and a peek into
2008 for our state.
First the disclaimer: forecasting construction activity, even
by the biggest corporations and think-tanks, is "a product
of educated guesswork," as MCN put it, because of the highly
fragmented nature of the industry, and the inability to get good
information on small, family-owned firms.
Here are some of the findings:
- "MCN's educated guess is that due to the current economic
slump in Michigan, the size of the construction industry market
in our state was approximately $45 billion in 2006, and could
possibly rise to about $48 to $49 billion by the end of this
year." Of that amount, $3 billion would represent the current
size of Michigan's depressed residential construction sector.
In 2006 residential construction was tabulated at $4.55 billion.
- The housing slump is real. In 2006 Michigan residential construction
included 31,010 units. Through August of this year Michigan's
housing starts were down 19.1 percent compared to a year ago.
Residential construction in Michigan currently is about 33 percent
to 40 percent off the peak established in 2004, when 52,800 units
- When the final numbers of 2007 are compiled, nonresidential
construction in Michigan is expected to jump in the 5-10 percent
range compared to a year ago, and possibly continuing to climb
at that same level through 2008, unadjusted for inflation.
- Office construction "appears to be falling due to a
saturated market with high vacancies extending well into the
- Highway/bridge construction may experience no growth, or
even decline when 2007 ends. On the federal level, the Highway
Trust Fund is expected to reduce payments to states, and the
nation is facing an estimated $4 billion deficit in fiscal year
2009 if Congress does not raise vehicle fuel taxes.
- Industrial construction: there's good news here. "Due
to the automotive product cycle, a recovery is underway,"
MCN said. Early this year Ford announced an $866 million investment
in its southeastern Michigan plants. General Motors reports it
will be investing at least $500 million in plant improvements
over the next two to three years.
- Daimler Chrysler will soon have more than $1 billion in construction
underway. A number of ethanol refineries have broken ground or
have been proposed, such as a $100 million cellulosic ethanol
plan, which may be the first of its kind in the nation.
- Utility construction: While being restricted to pollution
control upgrades and maintenance for many years, this spring
Michigan's electrical utilities announced bold plans for the
construction of baseload generating plants. DTE Energy said it
was looking into development of a $3 billion nuclear unit for
its Fermi II facility in Monroe. A reliable source has told MCN
it is also developing plans for a baseload coal-fired plant,
though he could provide no details. Over the next five years
DTE also plans to invest $1 billion in advanced air scrubbers
at its Monroe Plant.
- Consumers Energy is developing plans for an approximately
$1.5 billion, 750 megawatt, coal fired plant to be built at its
Karn-Weadock station near Bay City. In Midland, the joint venture
of L.S. Power Group and Dynergy, has proposed a $1.3 billion,
760 megawatt coal fired plant.
- Educational construction: Many of Michigan's universities,
particularly the University of Michigan, fielded substantial
construction programs in 2006 and are continuing to do so in
2007. The list is too long to cover here, but since the first
of the year the U-M Board of Regents has acted on more than $705
million in construction projects. Regarding K-12 public education,
"we expect this to remain a strong market despite Michigan's
currently depressed economy," MCN said.
- Medical Construction: Michigan's Certificate of Need Commission
approved $2.46 billion for 465 projects during 2006. This compares
to $1.71 billion for 2005 and $1.97 billion for 2004.
- Commercial: During 2006 the Michigan Economic Development
Corporation granted $232.8 million in Michigan Single Business
Tax relief to 73 projects with an estimated total value of $3.13
billion. Much of them were for mixed use developments where residential
units (apartments or condominiums) are being built with retail
and office space. For the first six months of 2007 it has provided
tax incentives to 55 projects that will invest $1.34 billion.
- Retail: Nothing has changed since our January 2007 forecast.
It continues to be an active market despite Michigan's relatively
high unemployment level.
- Other projects: A July 2007 decision by the U.S. Court of
Appeals has finally cleared the way to allow ground to be broken
for the Firekeepers Casino in Emmett Township near Battle Creek.
The complex is expected to cost $270 million. In Grand Rapids
bids are currently being taken for the $115 million Terminal
Area & Parking Improvement Program at the Gerald R. Ford
- Labor: The latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau,
covering the year 2004, shows more than 172,000 engaged in construction
industry employment in Michigan. "I've been told by sources
within Michigan's construction industry that figure has dropped
to 142,000, with the unionized construction building trades representing
approximately half that number," MCN said. "The remainder
are employed by open shop contractors. Note that open shop contractors
build virtually all of the new homes in Michigan. There are only
a handful of unionized contractors still active in residential
Though the current unionized labor force is aging, retirement
in its ranks has slowed, and apprentice recruitment and training
appears to be keeping up with demand. Shortages in certain skilled
trades do persist.
"My observation," said MCN's Guy Snyder, "is
the supply of journeymen for unionized contractors may be strained
by the time 2008 rolls around, when manpower requirements on
major projects bid and begun in 2006 start to peak."
MCN said it's "our impression of a slowly growing recovery
in Michigan's nonresidential construction market. Despite heavy
competition from open shop workers, the unions that typically
involved in the initial stages of a construction project are
experiencing better times."
provides the key to new Soo lock
The U.S. Senate on Nov. 7 joined the House in overriding President
Bush's veto, opening the door to the spending of $23 billion
for Army Corps of Engineers water-related projects across the
Among the construction plums for Michigan in the Water Resources
Development Act (WRDA): a long-awaited new $342-million lock
in Sault Ste. Marie. The new lock would be a twin for the Poe
Lock, and provide a backup in case the Poe experiences mechanical
failure or sabotage.
Congress authorized a new lock in Sault Ste. Marie as part
of its 1986 Water Resources Development Act, but made the project
subject to a provision requiring a study of the project. And
the federal government nearly "studied" the new lock
"This legislation says to the U.S. Army Corps that you
shall build this new lock," said Congressman Bart Stupak
(D-Menominee). "The time for studies is over." The
lock will be 100 percent federally funded.
Stupak and others have warned that if the Poe Lock were ever
incapacitated, Great Lakes shipping would grind to a halt.
The largest lock at the Soo, the 1,000-foot long by 105-foot
wide Poe Lock was completed in 1968 and handles the biggest iron
ore- and bulk-cargo freighters. Also at the Soo are McArthur
Lock (completed in 1944, 800 ft. long by 80 ft. wide) and the
smaller Davis and Sabin locks, which were built more than 80
Plans call for removing the Davis and Sabin locks and replacing
them with the larger lock.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT at the Soo Locks are the
MacArthur, Poe, Davis and Sabin locks. Plans are to demolish
the Davis and Sabin, which are more than 80 years old, replacing
them with a single lock.
U-M: U.S. economy will rebound
ANN ARBOR - Despite a slumping housing market, rising oil prices,
flat auto sales, a weak U.S. dollar and waning consumer confidence,
America's economy will not slip into recession, say University
of Michigan economists.
And the residential construction industry should start to
show signs of life toward the end of next year.
"By mid-2008, the downturn in homebuilding is reaching
its bottom," said Saul Hymans, U-M professor emeritus of
economics, in a prestigious nationwide study released Nov. 15.
"Energy prices, while still quite high, are down from their
recent heights and edging lower. Consumer spending begins to
pick up and nonresidential investment remains relatively strong.
With all of these factors contributing, the pace of real Gross
Domestic Product growth picks up during the second half of 2008
and proceeds at a healthy clip during 2009."
In their annual forecast of the U.S. economy, Hymans and colleagues
Joan Crary and Janet Wolfe say, however, that national economic
output growth will remain sluggish in the short term - due to
the ongoing decline in residential construction and subdued growth
in consumer spending.
They say the rate of economic growth will be just 2.1 percent
this year, down from 2.9 percent in 2006. But output growth will
increase to 2.4 percent next year and accelerate to 3.4 percent
According to the forecast, both residential construction and
existing home sales will begin to turn up in the second half
of next year. US. housing starts, which are down 35 percent since
2005, will continue to fall from 1.35 million this year to 1.21
million in 2008, before increasing to 1.55 million the year after.
Marchers protest NLRB ruling
WASHINGTON (PAI) - More than 1,000 union members marched on the
National Labor Relations Board headquarters on Nov. 15, protesting
a slew of anti-worker rulings by the three-member majority installed
by President Bush.
The protest, organized by the AFL-CIO, drew unionists, religious
allies and a wide range of supporters.
"This is not the NLRB. This is George Bush's board. This
is Dick Cheney's board. This is the Chamber of
Commerce's board. This is the National Association of Manufacturers'
board. And it sure as hell ain't the Labor Board!' declared Mine
Workers President Cecil Roberts.
The marchers protested 61 NLRB decisions, virtually all by
party-line 3-2 votes, starting in late September and continuing,
that stripped away many workers' rights. They included rulings
making it easier to oust unions through what are called "decertification
petitions," rulings making it harder for workers illegally
fired for pro-union work to get back pay, and rulings making
it easier for firms to break labor law.
Other NLRB rulings that the unionists protested weakened the
already weak right to strike, opened the
door to retaliatory lawsuits by companies, let employers get
away with illegal threats to workers, and let employers evade
the law's mandate that they must bargain with the union once
it is certified to represent the workers.
The stream of anti-worker rulings is so bad that last month,
the AFL-CIO formally filed a complaint about
the NLRB with the International Labour Organization.
The Rev. Ron Stief, organizing director for Faith in Public
Life, said the marchers "know who to give
thanks for" in the holiday season, including unions, organizers,
civil rights groups, and religious groups "who stand between
us and this (NLRB) behavior. And we know who the turkey is,"
Stief added, to laughter.