Local construction crews apparently have shrugged off the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic to stay busy on projects that include the $32 million Extraco Events Center expansion now running $1.1 million under budget.
Of the 27 subcontractors lending manpower and materials to create the new athletic and livestock complex at Bosque Boulevard and Lake Air Drive, 19 are from Waco or McLennan County, according to figures provided by John W. Erwin General Contractor Inc., which is overseeing the project.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with major projects around the state and nation, but work generally has remained steady in Greater Waco and Central Texas, with new hotels under construction in East Waco, downtown and on Waco’s traffic circle; Magnolia Market at the Silos spending more than $10 million on expansion; and an investment group going full throttle with Pivovar, a Czech-themed bakery, restaurant and brewery next to Magnolia.
“In other parts of the country, construction has been shut down,” said K. Paul Holt, president of the local office of Associated General Contractors of America. “Dallas has been pinched hard. Austin has been pinched hard due to COVID-19. Our folks have been playing this the right way. Crews haven’t been getting sick, and the mayor and county judge have said let’s keep commercial construction going.”
Holt made the comments last week, after cases locally had started to spike. That trend has only accelerated since.
“So many big projects have been slowed, postponed or stopped,” Holt said. “This one, Extraco, everybody wants to bid on this one, which is positively a great thing. We, meaning the county, should get some great supplier bids, maybe some great contractor bids. It helps that we have a local general contractor involved, which helps create local jobs.”
The McLennan County Commissioners Court, working with John W. Erwin General Contractor, agreed to bid the Extraco venture in phases, creating small bites in a multimillion-dollar project that smaller subcontractors could digest.
Kevin Karr, with Erwin, credited community partnerships, work sequencing and a “quality group of subcontractors committed to performing the work” for the success of the project to date. County Administrator Dustin Chapman provided documents to the Tribune-Herald showing Erwin expects to return $1.12 million to the county as budget underruns, a savings of 3.5% on the voter-approved capital improvement package.
“To date we have not experienced any major material delays, issues or shortages. …We expect our positive performance to continue,” Karr said by email.
The projected is slated for completion by February.
Karr said planning and logistics, not necessarily COVID-19, is responsible for local subcontractor participation and reasonable bidding.
He said the last round of subcontractor bids were taken in the fall of last year, well before the pandemic started its local assault.
Jim Reed, Waco’s public works street division manager, said so far COVID-19 has not affected bidding on an array of capital improvement projects. He hopes that trend continues, because the city is about to embark on a “shelf full of projects,” all valued at $1 million plus, Reed said.
“I like the way bidding is balancing out,” he said. “We’re not seeing incredibly high or incredibly low numbers. We do have the occasional contractor who will bid high just to test the water, but Waco remains a competitive market. I don’t think we have anybody coming in thinking we’re just going to give them the work because no one else is bidding. We’re seeing at least two bidders and at the most six bidders on work, which is how it was before.”
Reed admitted the market has pleasantly surprised him. He worried about the toll COVID-19 might take. Combine the virus with the massive $341 million widening of Interstate 35 through Waco, as well as the Extraco project, and he wondered if there would be work crews available.
“But contractors have enough people,” Reed said. “Most are fully staffed. If we have an emergency request, it’s not hard to find a contractor.”
Holt, the local Associated General Contractors president, said he is reserving judgment on the massive undertaking unfolding at New Road and Interstate 35, where a multi-screen Cinemark theater will anchor an entertainment complex featuring a Topgolf family area and driving range, restaurants and a bowling center.
He said corporate giants such as Cinemark typically have a contractor of choice that follows it everywhere. That being the case, he hopes the company based in the Dallas-area makes generous use of local subcontractors.
The Texas Department of Transportation, meanwhile, reports the $341 million widening of I-35 likely will not benefit from any savings related to an economy dragged down by pandemic.
The project was awarded to Webber LLC in December 2018, at which time prices were locked in, TxDOT spokesperson Jake Smith said.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.