In this episode of the ConstructionWire Podcast, we dive into some headlines from around the industry.
Then, host Luke O’Brien and hotel research supervisor Peter Speerbrecker will discuss the evolution of Eaton Workshop, a unique hotel brand that merges hospitality with social change. Helmed by hotelier Katherine Lo, they consider themselves a hybrid model of a hotel, co-working members club and wellness center.
We’ll also discuss this episode’s MegaMap project, the TMT or Thirty Meter Telescope, called “Astronomy’s Next-Generation Observatory.” The construction of the project has been met with controversy and protests. Tune in to learn how things are shaping up.
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Want to learn more about how millennials are shaping hotel trends in 2019? Check out our popular post: The Top 7 Hotel Trends for 2019.
Hello listeners and welcome to the fourth episode of the Construction Wire Podcast. Remember that the Construction Wire Podcast is a podcast that twice a month takes the blue pencil to the biggest news in the construction market and makes it accessible to you. I’m your host Luke O’Brien and as always, the Construction Wire Podcast is made possible by BuildCentral, the Chicago based front runner in construction market research, whose data keeps you ahead in the game and knowledgeable to every opportunity available, whether you are a vendor or supplier, contractor or developer.
Luke O’Brien: Today’s show we will again feature the mega map, the segment of our show in which we allot time enough to take a brief but deep dive into the most ambitious construction projects going on in the United States right now. Last week we covered the Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village project being developed by David Beckham, and this week we’ll be taking a look at what is being called the TMT, a project being built in Hawaii and without giving too much away as to what the TMT is, we’ll be covering that later in the segment, I will say that our coverage on this project was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Luke O’Brien: But before all that we at Build Central thought it would be worthwhile to catch you up on what has been going on in the construction market this week. So we’re going to go ahead and start this show with a brief recap of this week’s top construction headlines.
Luke O’Brien: So, our first top headline comes to us from the la.curbed.com website and is entitled Unusual 170-Room Historic Core Hotel set to begin construction in 2020. It came out on 11th, 2019 and was written by Bianca Barragan who herself is an associate editor at Curbed LA. Hotels have definitely been on my mind all week as you will no doubt hear later during my conversation with Peter Speerbrecker, the hotel research supervisor here at Build Central, and this particular hotel outlined in the article, it stood out to me in a big way. It’s being called the Spring Street Hotel and is being built at 633 South Spring Street, in the historic core neighborhood of Los Angeles. It’s being developed by Lizard Capital and is designed by Asap/Adam Sokol Architecture Practice, usually just referred to as Asap Architecture.
Luke O’Brien: Now the reason why I wanted to cover this project is simple. The Spring Street hotel is dramatic. It has form, it has design. It is an incredibly unique looking hotel, especially in its renderings, on its facade, the outside view of it. When I research specific projects, when they’re in their early days of concept design and planning, usually the first thing I come across is a rendering, an architectural artistic drawing of how the project will fill the space that it’s being planned in. And some stand out more than others and that is definitely the case of the Spring Street Hotel. Just a little bit of background on its designer, Asap/Adam Sokol Architecture Practice, as per their website, which you can find at www.asap.pro. They are a “collaborative design practice founded in 2011 and based in Los Angeles, with a second office in Buffalo, New York, USA.” And when you start to look through their portfolio on their website, their projects list, you begin to notice a trend.
Luke O’Brien: Their designs are very clean, they’re very heavy, they’re very monolithic. The interior of the Emperor Hotel, a project of theirs in Beijing, that is built right now, it’s open to the public, it feels quiet when you look at it, When you look at the pictures of its interior space. They make use of heavy stone and slate, lots of gray scale shades. Their angles are very sharp and geometric and this all exemplifies their style of design. You see this modern, dark, quiet, again, monolithic look, repeated by them with no exception in regards to the Spring Street Hotel.
Luke O’Brien: To give you an idea of what it looks like, I’d like to refer back to our original article from Curbed LA to quote, “The unusual design that impressed the west side urban forum, which recently gave an award to the project for its architecture, which the jury called inventive. It’s a piece of geology growing out of the ground that on the inside creates a myriad of environments,” the jury commented. And this is true. The renderings of it resemble an oblong crystal or iceberg jutting up straight into the sky. In reference to the design of Spring Street Asap/Adam Sokol Architecture Practice has been quoted in the past as describing it as “a large rock in the landscape,” and I think that’s certainly an apt description for the project.
Luke O’Brien: We had built Central, had been following the progress of Spring Street since its inception in 2015 and our research has found that it will be about 28 stories high, around 170 rooms. I think the correct number is 176 rooms if I’m not mistaken, with 20 suites. I will also feature a restaurant on the second, third and fourth floors, as well as a rooftop pool and bar. The rooftop bar will be downtown LA’s highest public space. You know, if you’re familiar with any of the other Asap hotels that have been designed, including the Emperor Hotel, this will certainly be a four star if not five star location. And I love projects like this with an innovative design in the heavily urban area, where a lot of people will be able to look at it and admire it. So Bravo, Lizard Capital and Asap/Adam Sokol Architecture Practice. Well done.
Luke O’Brien: So the second article I would like to discuss today is actually not an article at all but rather a press release and it appeared on the www.globenewswire.com website, on July 22nd, 2019 and the title of the Press Release is Hush Blackwell Launches Construction Academy. And obviously it was released by Hush Blackwell themselves and now in the press release Hush Blackwell described themselves as “an industry focused law firm with offices in 18 cities across the United States.” Actually in June, 2019, Construction Executive Magazine had actually ranked Hush Blackwell among its top 50 construction law firms, which is pretty impressive. And essentially the title of the press release says it all. Again, Hush Blackwell launches construction academy. In their own words, “Hush Blackwell is pleased to announce the launch of its construction academy, a comprehensive industry based knowledge center that seeks to foster learning, create interactions and build value for its participants.” Hush Blackwell is responsible for the programming and administration of the Construction and Design Academy, which aims to include diverse voices and stakeholders, including business leaders from the construction, design, engineering development and project funding fields, as well as trade associations, universities and policy makers.
Luke O’Brien: And now obviously this is all very recent news. The press release was just issued on July 22nd so just a few days ago. But what I find interesting right off the bat, is that they call this initiative a construction academy in the title of the press release. And then further down in the first paragraph that I just read, they refer to it alternatively as an industry based knowledge center. And what that says to me is that this will likely not be a formal academy, i.e. classes, schedules, teachers, et Cetera, but rather more of a consortium or a type of mobile accessible think tank for construction industry workers. Now that’s my hypothesis. Again, I can’t speak assuredly towards what format the academy will take, but I certainly liked the idea, of a loose sort of seminar convention, workshop based kind of educational opportunity for industry workers and the press release does go slightly more in depth as to what their aim with this initiative will be.
Luke O’Brien: And I’ll quote further, “Construction and design projects are inherently complex and becoming more so, said Joshua Levi, co-leader of Hush Blackwell’s construction and Design Practice Group. “Our aim here is to gather together the very smart people in our industry in order to break down that complexity and to derive real world insights that people can use to move projects forward. A key component of the construction academy is the participation of leaders and companies involved in the industry in order to develop solutions that address challenges on both the local and national level.” And I do think that this is a great idea, especially in regards to how they will provide educational opportunities at both a local and national level. I remember that Hush Blackwell is based in 18 cities nationwide, so they certainly have the local/national insight and knowledge and will be well connected with the leaders they choose to bring into the fold, and I think that whatever form this construction academy takes in the future will be well worth it to monitor. Very cool news.
Luke O’Brien: All right everyone, moving onto my favorite part of the show, the mega map, our mega map segment, again, is the part of our show where we take a brief but deep dive into the biggest and most ambitious construction projects going on in the United States right now. So, the mega map project that I would like to discuss this week comes to us from Hawaii’s big island at the base of Muana Kea, which is the island’s tallest mountain, and the project in question clocks in at around $1.4 billion in total net worth, an astronomical amount of money, and is intended to allow us on earth to see 13 billion light years away into space. The project in question is most often referred to by its acronym, the TMT, otherwise known as the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Luke O’Brien: I’ve always had a fascination with space. I think everyone, at least when they were a kid, did as well. It is the last frontier. It’s an endless void. We know little to nothing about… Our greatest space achievements thus far have been short, human excursions to the moon. You know, robotic rovers on Mars, things like the Mir International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, the Voyager space probes., But the project I want to discuss today will certainly rank up there with all of them. On fact upon its completion it will be able to capture images 12 times sharper than the images we have so far captured from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Luke O’Brien: I’d like to read a short description of the Thirty Meter Telescope Project that is included on the www.tmt.org website, the website dedicated to the Thirty Meter Telescope. And to quote, “The Thirty Meter Telescope is a new class of extremely large telescopes that will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity. With its 30 meter prime mirror diameter, TMT will be three times as wide with nine times more area than the largest currently existing visible light telescope in the world. This will provide unparalleled resolution with TMT images more than 12 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. When operational, the TMT will provide opportunities in essentially every field of astronomy and astrophysics. Observing in wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet to the mid infrared, this unique instrument will allow astronomers to address fundamental questions in astronomy, ranging from understanding star and planet formation, to unraveling the history of galaxies and the development of large scale structure in the universe.”
Luke O’Brien: Now, it should be noted that this project is not without its fair share of controversy. It ceremonially broke ground in 2014, but construction was halted in April, 2015 due to protests and lawsuits by native Hawaiians working against it. There’s plenty of information online about the protests, the trial, the legalities surrounding the project, however, we at the Construction Wire Podcast, really do try to focus on the construction side of developments like the TMT. We research important projects like these and remain uninvolved in any other capacity. So with that said, again, there’s plenty of information online about the current state of the project and the protests against it, especially nowadays. The Hawaiian State Supreme Court recently upheld the validity of the TMT’s building permit and it is looking like it will be resuming construction imminently, but feel free to check out the state of the project online for yourselves. There’s plenty of info out there. It’ll come up on Google right away.
Luke O’Brien: But moving forward, I would really like to provide you all with some of the technical aspects of the TMT. They are what really make the project stand out from a construction standpoint. And to that end, I am going to cite from the TMT management plan. Now the TMT management plan was submitted to the Hawaiian DLNR or the department of land and natural resources and it was intended to “guide various activities and uses within the TMT project area.” So, it’s a description of what they’re going to do with the TMT and the project area in terms of construction and what it’s going to look like.
Luke O’Brien: Now, the TMT management plan outlined how the total construction footprint of the TMT will only be around five acres, so it’s a very small… Compared to other billion dollar mixed use developments and the like that we’ve covered in the past, five acres is very small and the telescope will be in the shape of a dome. Now, the dimensions of the dome are as follows, “The total dome height will be 184 feet above the finish grade with an exterior radius of 108 feet. The dome shutter will be 102.5 feet in diameter and will retract inside the dome when it’s open. The supporting building, it will be attached to the dome. The building will have a roof area of approximately 21,000 square feet, a gross interior floor area of roughly 18,376 square feet, a primarily flat roof, which will be lava colored. The sport building will include the following spaces, a mirror coding and staging area, a laboratory and shop spaces, including a computer room, engineering and electronics laboratories, and a mechanical shop.
Luke O’Brien: Now the tmt.org website includes a tentative construction timeline outline for the project. They expect the base structure to be complete by around this time next year in 2020, the telescope’s structure fabrication completed by around March 2021, and the enclosure shell complete by around February 2022, and the summit facility building complete by around November 2023. Now, the telescope itself likely won’t be ready for use until around 2027. A lot of things need to happen. A lot of tests need to be run in order for it to be actually operational. But in regards to the actual construction timeline, for our purposes it doesn’t sound so bad, especially in regards to length.
Luke O’Brien: The facility will essentially be erected by 2023. after all, it is a relatively small facility. Again, the construction footprint is only five acres. The challenges to constructing the TMT however, lay in the minutia, you know, the small things taken for granted during construction on say, an apartment building. First, what you have to consider are the materials that need to be built into the building. For instance, one of the instruments that will be incorporated into the design is called the IRIS, the I-R-I-S, which is an acronym for infrared imaging spectrograph. This particular instrument is still being designed at this very moment and will be the first of its kind anywhere on earth. It’s highly sensitive and extremely, extremely expensive. Think about transporting something like that to a construction site. It becomes a nightmare, especially if the construction site is at the top of a mountain.
Luke O’Brien: Correct positioning of an instrument like that into the facility also becomes absolutely critical. The facility itself must be built to be able to maintain an extremely clean, sterile environment so that outside particles do not interact and interfere with such sensitive machines. The TMT, although physically small, comparatively to its cost becomes a very, very tedious project. To add to this point, again, I’d like to refer to the www.tmt.org website regarding the enclosure facility. This would be the dome structure housing all of set instrumentation. “The TMT enclosure has several key functions. By day, it must protect observatory systems, facilitate a broad range of maintenance activities, including providing cranes for lifting and keep the telescope temperature near the expected nighttime temperature. By night, it must shield the telescope from wind buffeting while allowing enough airflow to keep the interior structure in thermal equilibrium with the outside air to limit image degradation due to air turbulence in the enclosure.
Luke O’Brien: So extremely, extremely complicated stuff. Really, I’m imagining a hermetically sealed snow globe that can open when needed for brief periods of time. Now, the Thirty Meter Telescope has been designed and developed by the TMT International Observatory, LLC, otherwise known as TIO, T-I-O and TIO is a nonprofit international partnership between, bear with me on this, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India and the National Research Council Canada.
Luke O’Brien: In terms of who the contractors are involved with the project, again, Build Central has been following the development of the TMT for years and now that it will be likely picking up construction where it left off years ago, we will be closely monitoring it for construction milestones, and contractor designer developer contact information. And for further info on this project and others like it, I will urge you to head to www.construction wired.com for a free trial and demo of our services.
Luke O’Brien: All right everyone, I’d like to conclude today’s show by playing you a recording of a conversation that I had recently with my coworker, Peter Speerbrecker. Again, he is the hotel research supervisor at Build Central and although in my own research I dabble in a little bit of everything, my primary focus is on hotels as well, and recently a new hotel brand has caught both of our eyes. The name of the brand is Eaton Workshop. It was created by hotelier Katherine Lo. Let’s take a listen.
Luke O’Brien: Pete, before we jump into it, I was hoping you might just be able to introduce yourself and your role at Build Central if that sounds good.
Peter S.: Yeah, thanks Luke. So yeah, I’m Peter Speerbrecker. I’m the hotel research supervisor here at Build Central, which means that I handle a lot of the day to day stuff for hotelmarketdata.com.
Luke O’Brien: Cool.
Peter S.: I’ve been here for about five years and I’ve been working with hotels almost the entire time. I started off part time and yeah, so it’s just grown and grown and grown.
Luke O’Brien: Very cool man. So again, Eaton Workshop Hotels, I mean, you and I both know a little bit about these. You, I think, will probably have a better idea of what exactly they’re doing to the market right now. And I just wanted to start off, can you just give a brief overview of what Eaton Workshop Hotels are and sort of what they are and what the brand stands for?
Peter S.: Yeah, sure. So the baseline for the brand is that Eaton Hotels, Eaton Workshop is a socially conscious brand and they really want to kind of focus around activism and collective ideas and just kind of bringing together art, and culture, and politics into one combined space.
Luke O’Brien: Really, really cool. Yeah. I’ve seen some photos of the interior of the existing Eaton Workshop that I think that was the DC location. Correct? It opened last year?
Peter S.: Yes.
Luke O’Brien: Got it. Yeah, I mean it looks amazing, but you know, you said it’s a socially conscious brand and I wonder if you can sort of describe what that means in practice. Like, what will you see at an Eaton Workshop Hotel that sort of lends itself to being a socially active and conscious brand?
Peter S.: Well, and that’s really the cool thing about the brand is that everything in the hotel is kind of designed around this idea. So, you’ve got tons of collective meeting spaces. They’ve got coworking spaces in their incubators, they’ve got space for advocacy groups. They’ve got little radio station, podcast studio in there to let people come in and work on digital media there.
Luke O’Brien: Nice. Very cool.
Peter S.: Yeah. All the amenities in this place are kind of designed around that focal concept of the brand.
Luke O’Brien: Really cool. When I went on their website, the first picture that pops up is a podcast station at the Washington DC location. So I thought that was really cool. I was looking at some of the specs of the DC location. They also have a 50-person cinema. I know that the owner/founder of Eaton Hotels, a woman named Katherine Lo, she just happens to be the daughter of the founder of Langham Hotels, you know, the really high end brand that we actually have here in Chicago. I think the Langham Hotel Chicago was rated… I think TripAdvisor had it as the best hotel in the United States, by whatever metric they judge hotels through. That was maybe a year or two ago they won that, but… So, Katherine Lo back to her. So, she started this brand and she, I think, was a film major in college. So she’s really making an effort to bring culture, and film, and videography, and that kind of thing, into every hotel that’s developed under the Eaton name. So I think that’s really cool.
Luke O’Brien: You know Pete, I also kind of wanted to ask you, I’m wondering if you, off the top of your head, could name, you know, any, any other sort of brand in the United States that sort of doing the same thing?
Peter S.: You know, off the top of my head, I couldn’t really pull a single one out for you. But this is kind of what I see as an extension of the trends that we’ve been seeing in the industry, especially over the last five to 10 years. Where we’re seeing the way that brands are shaping their identity. So we’ve had a lot of millennial focused hotels in the past couple of years coming out more and more, which have focuses on these kinds of collective spaces and getting people together. A lot of communal areas. But when you think about a hotel brand, the ideas around when we… What we consider brands kind of start with the guest room and then it kind of starts expanding out. And when people try to differentiate their brands, you know, first you have a different guestroom than another hotel, then you have different public spaces from other hotels and now you’ve got a brand like Eaton Workshop, which is, it’s not only this really unique design, these really cool spaces, but there’s a whole social conscious aspect to it that’s saying, “This is who we are and this is what it means to come to one of our hotels.
Peter S.: So if you believe in this kind of collective action and discussion, and fostering of ideas, and creativity, and art and culture, come to our hotel.
Luke O’Brien: Do you think that just being branded in such a specific way, do you think that is by default maybe excluding possible travelers at the hotel? Do you think people might skip over this, skip over going into an Eaton Workshop just because they don’t want to be confronted with activist posters and social change and all that kind of thing?
Peter S.: I mean, that is a distinct possibility and a chance that the brand has taken. But the same thing can be said for any brand. Why choose a Hyatt Regency over a Best Western? If you’re going to have a Hyatt brand at your hotel, you’re automatically self-selecting people who want to stay in that tier of hotel.
Luke O’Brien: That’s true. That’s true.
Peter S.: I don’t see it too, too much differently because, especially in this industry, we’ve got so many new brands and everyone is trying to figure out a way to make themselves stand out and this is just another way for a brand to really kind of figure out what idea and what segment of the market they want to go after and they’re going 100% for it.
Luke O’Brien: Yeah. Very cool. You know, you mentioned millennials earlier. Do you think that’s definitely the sort of the target audience, market for Eaton Workshops or do you think it’s going to attract possibly an older crowd as well?
Peter S.: I believe the idea, from what I’ve read, behind the brand is yeah, they want to really draw in everybody. This is not just a millennial focused hotel, you know? That’s why when you look around at the design of this place, it’s just all this fantastic architecture and all these beautiful spaces. They’re very warm, very classic style, full of nice, modern twist and flair on everything but…
Luke O’Brien: Yeah, that’s, no, I totally agree. That’s definitely the vibe that I was getting when I was looking at it too. I sort of… I went into TripAdvisor and Yelp and I was looking at some of the reviews of the one in Washington and everyone talks about, regardless of who you are, everyone talks about the organic snacks in the guest rooms, the Taro cards that they leave in all the guests rooms. They also have vinyl record players in all the guests rooms with a small collection of vinyls that you can listen to. And you know, I understand the brand really prioritizes things like sustainability, food waste. I think they have an urban farm on the rooftop. All the stuff is being built to LED standards.
Luke O’Brien: And I know that all that really affords big opportunities to local vendors for things like that. You know, local vinyl record shops that could sort of be purveyors to the hotel, that kind of thing. I also kind of wanted to ask you as well, back to the sort of audience that an Eaton Workshop Hotel might attract. What I was wondering is whether or not you might see more people switching back to a hotel option rather than an Airbnb. I thought maybe an Eaton Workshop Hotel might be just out there and kitschy enough that it might attract people who are sort of set on Airbnbs. What do you think?
Peter S.: Yeah, I mean if think, you know, for a certain segment of customer, Airbnb serves a very specific financial role and I think that’s where they can draw a lot of customers. But they’re also, especially younger people I know who use Airbnb, they like it because of the kind of sense of space that you get with them being in an apartment or condominium building where when you look around at just the amenities and the space and the style that just oozes out of this property. You could really make a push into that segment.
Luke O’Brien: I think. Yeah, I would definitely agree with you. I think it’s just unique enough to attract that kind of person who might otherwise go to an Airbnb. I like that you touched on the price of Eaton Workshop too. I looked at what they were… What a basic room was going to four last night and that would have been like a Wednesday. And they’re, in the DC location, which is a big city, they were going for about $150 a night, which really isn’t bad, especially if you take into consideration that Katherine Lo, again, the founder of Eaton Workshop, she was the creative director behind the Langham hotel in Chicago. And remember the Langham got rated the best hotel in the United States some years ago. And I think a comparable Wednesday night for a comparable suite at the Langham is going for about $500. So you definitely get that sense of luxury without breaking the bank at a place like Eaton, which I think is definitely something millennials obviously will be attracted to, but also for people who, you know, anyone who wants that sort of luxury feel that I think is really cool.
Peter S.: Yeah, it really ticks off just a lot of boxes for everyone. So when you first look at this place and you hear the kind of pitch, you think, oh, you know, this is a very almost niche property, but when you actually dig into it, there’s something for everybody and that with a brand like this that you wouldn’t expect just from reading a quick synopsis of the property.
Luke O’Brian: Very cool. So… All right, so they open the Washington DC location last year. Do you, are we tracking any other ones? Is there going to be any other locations in the United States coming up?
Peter S.: I believe we have two that we’ve been tracking for a little while. I believe it is San Francisco and Seattle are the two other properties that they announced their projects that they announced back in 2017.
Luke O’Brien: Okay.
Peter S.: And it looks like as of last fall, they haven’t really moved forward with anything yet. They’re still planning and working around on it. And our research that we’ve done so far, we haven’t heard much news about it.
Luke O’Brien: I also wanted to ask… Okay, so we have San Francisco in the pipeline, we have Seattle in the pipeline. Washington’s built. Would you see this type of brand expanding outside of big cities, outside of really social conscious cities like Washington and San Francisco?
Peter S.: So that would be I think a bit of a tough proposition for them. I think it would entirely be possible, especially if you were to open up maybe like a sub-brand, like a another Eaton sub-brand in maybe smaller college towns, kind of hit that 30 to 60 room segment. They could probably pop up almost hostel style in a hotel or in a university town, the hotel maybe with a small conference center meeting space. I think that could also fill in a really great niche.
Luke O’Brien: Yeah. It’s still early for these guys. They have one location so far, but it’s going to be really interesting to watch their progress in the future. Katherine Lo is definitely an inspiring figure, being a female entrepreneur doing this kind of work and coming out with a brand that’s really… That’s spectacular. So Pete, it was awesome talking to you man and I hope to have you on again soon, especially in the near future when the next location of Eaton Workshop opens up. I really appreciate it.
Peter S.: Yeah, thank you very much.
Luke O’Brien: Absolutely. All right everyone, that is it. I hope you enjoyed the show. Pete, thanks again for coming on. Great talking to you and I hope to have you on again soon. See you at work tomorrow. We will be back in two weeks with more content, news and discussion about the world of construction, but in the meantime, as always, if you could hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast platform you’re using to listen in, whether it’s Apple podcast, Google Play, Stitcher or whatever else and give us a follow, that would be great. Also, if you liked today’s episode specifically, go ahead and leave us a five star review that helps us out a ton. Thanks again for listening to the Construction Wire Podcast, brought to you by Build Central Construction Data, covering new projects in the commercial, hospitality, medical and multifamily construction spaces. You can grab your free trial and demo today at www.constructionwire.com. That’s www.constructionwire.com. Take care.