Bringing Life Life to Downtown

The final piece of LA Live is in place with the opening of the 54-story combined JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, hotels and Ritz-Carlton Residences, which is the first skyscraper built in downtown Los Angeles in two decades. The hotel properties add a residential component to the $2.5 billion, 4-million-square-foot, LA Live sports and entertainment district that was inaugurated with the construction of Staples Center in 1999 and includes the Nokia Theatre and Nokia Plaza.

Situated across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center and designed to include meeting space and accommodations for conventioneers, the combined 1,001-room property was designed by Gensler, a global design and architecture firm; it is owned by Los Angeles-based AEG and MacFarlane Partners.

The JW Marriott Hotel, Los Angeles, occupies the first 21 floors of the building; it opened in February 2010. In April, Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, located on the upper floors of the 54-story tower, opened. The Marriott features 878 guest rooms, and its three-story lobby is a pass-through space that provides access to the adjacent Nokia Plaza. The Ritz-Carlton Residences at LA Live comprises 123 guest rooms and 224 private condominiums. An 80,000-square-foot conference center, which adjoins the Marriott, is also part of the property. The LEED-registered hotel tower is designed to achieve Silver-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The staggered opening, an unusual construction schedule and the unique architectural plan of the hotel tower complicated the construction process. Webcor Builders, a company headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., was the general contractor on the hotels, and PCL Constructors Inc., a company with its U.S. headquarters in Denver, was the general on the conference center. Sasco Electric of Fullerton, Calif., was the primary electrical contractor. A1 Electric Service Co. Inc., Culver City, Calif., garnered the contract for the building automation system.

Barry Design Associates Inc., Los Angeles, with assistance from AEG, was the interior designer along with the executive architect Gensler on the design/build project. While the design coordination was ongoing, Sasco’s project management was faced with constant requests for permitted drawings both from Sasco general foreman Jim Rose and from the L.A. Department of Building and Safety; the permitted drawings were needed prior to inspection.

“It was challenging and frustrating to say the least,” Mike Shea, project manager, Sasco, “but possible with a cohesive Sasco team led by project executive Jason Reed.”

Sasco provided design/build services including documentation, preliminary estimating, value engineering, budgeting, on-site coordination and design between Webcor Builders, AEG and multiple service providers, such as AT&T, Panasonic, Okajima, Crestron and the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott information technology departments, for the 2-million-square-foot project.

Webcor Builders organized the work force in an unusual way. Instead of multiple trades working alongside each other, each trade was allowed sole access to the hotel floors for a specified period.

“All the trades had a defined duration as to when they had to be done with a floor or area,” said Jim Grana, superintendent, Sasco. “As we were chasing steel up the building, the other trades were working on the lower floors. All the trades bought into the schedule. First pass was the framer, then the AC crews doing ducts, then the plumbers, the sprinkler fitters, then us and then the drywall crew.”

What was Webcor’s rationale? Victor Elliott, Webcor construction manager said: “We self-perform our concrete, so we’re driven by our unit rates and production we derive from our concrete structures. And because we’re pace-driven, our pace dictates the pace of the rest of the trades. So if we’re pouring a deck every three or five days, it’s important that the trades, like Sasco, are symmetrical—a one-for-one ratio—so they are always moving up the building at the same pace so that one trade doesn’t overtake or undertake the other. That’s the philosophy.

“LA Live construction was driven and predetermined and set with a five-day pace, but we had great success with our steel contractor, Herrick Steel, and they were able to reduce their durations and increase their productivity from five-day duration to three-day duration. That’s a 40 percent time-savings. In order to absorb that success and not have to work all the overtime, we ended up splitting up our trade scopes. For example, Sasco might do all their work in 10 days from start to finish. But in this case, we broke all their activities into three days. For the first three days, they did layout and box. Next three days, their data guys came in. Next, their fire alarm guys. So we were able to break up the cycle into smaller groups and spread it out over the building because we had room to do it. Instead of Sasco occupying two floors, they occupied five floors and turned over a floor every three days.”

To facilitate the process, Sasco had its 30-man crew split into crews of five to eight working multiple floors.

“Since they spent more time on each floor at the start,” Elliot said, “we absorbed the first hit of 20 days. But the dividend was that, after the first four or five floors, we were ahead of the original plan, and Sasco and the other trades were releasing a floor every three days. We had many weekly conversations with Grana and his team to identify constraints to our three-day goals. The electrical work was the most complex, and they had the most man-hours on the floor. Both Sasco and Webcor devoted a fair amount of time to choreograph the scope. We practiced on a few floors before we reached the required pace. Grana and his team were very successful in my mind.”

Sasco’s crew peaked at 75 during the time the company was working out the floor scheduling with Webcor.

“Fortunately, Victor Elliot and Keith Fearnside of Webcor would meet with me and superintendent Jim Grana weekly to work out any problems. That proved valuable to the success of the progress up the building,” Sasco’s Rose said.

Yet Sasco’s challenge in sticking to the three-day schedule was due to the unique architectural plan of the Ritz-Carlton tower. The footprint on every floor of it is different due to its shape—its widest part is about three-quarters of the way up. Floors above and below it decrease in size.

“There were definite challenges as the room dimensions continually grew as we progressed up the building,” Shea said. “As the room size changed, so did the lighting, load and device counts, which obviously created unique challenges. Fortunately, we had an on-site design and detailing team led by Edger Lee who worked continually so that we could stay within the schedule.”

And there was a lot to coordinate. The Ritz-Carlton hotel and tower has five substations fed by 3,000 amps of 4,160-volt switchgear plus two 1,500-kilowatt generators and nearly 600 switchboards, panel boards, transformers, ATS switches, UPS units and inverters, all operating together to service the building with more than 6 million feet of wire.

Installation of the vertical cabling infrastructure, which consisted of 70 communication rooms, was complicated by the fact that, as Sasco was working on the upper floors and other trades were working on the lower floors, construction was also going on above.

“The steel was being erected on the eighth floor when we started our hotel room rough on the fourth floor,” Grana said. “Rooms on the lower floors were painted, ready, theoretically, for someone to move in before there was even steel on the building 20 floors up, so the difficulty was getting the riser components in place before the building was even complete.”

Sasco used both single-mode and multimode 50-micron fiber cabling. In addition, multipair copper installed throughout the building ranged in size from 1,200 pair to a minimum of 100 pair.

“Vertically connecting those 70 rooms was difficult. We had to leave things long, leave cable rolled out until they built the rooms and then feed it back up,” Grana said, adding that they had to arrange storage.

“Since there was no on-site storage, if we were going to do a rough on Monday, we’d deliver our materials to the floor on Friday. On Monday, when the guys arrived, the tools and materials were there. On Thursday, during inspection, we’d move tools to [the] next floor and have the materials loaded for [the] next floor,” Grana said.

Installation of horizontal cabling on each floor during construction was much easier. It consisted of a manufacturer-certified Commscope Uniprise Solution as well as coaxial distribution. Typical workstations consisted of two Category 6 cables. For all TV locations, both RG-6 and RG-11 coaxial cabling were used. All boardrooms and conference rooms were fed with both multimode and single-mode fiber to the station. Single-mode and Heliax cabling were used for the DAS infrastructure, which extended over to the conference center and in all parking structures.

Sasco also did the complete electrical design for 50-by-160-foot light-emitting diode illuminated walls on the east and south sides of the JW Marriott, including fiber optic and copper data connections. In addition, two high-resolution LED media screens on the Marriott building at the southeast corner facing Nokia Plaza required extensive electrical design by Sasco using hardware and graphics by Panasonic to ensure AEG’s desired effect. Sasco also installed more than 33,000 watts of lighting dedicated to exterior “bus film” advertising on all four elevations of the Marriott.
“That created unique photometric challenges,” Shea said.

Sasco’s contract for PCL Constructors Inc. included design and construction services of the four-story, 184,000-square-foot conference center at LA Live, which adjoins the hotels at the third-floor Marriott level. Sasco provided design-and-build documentation, preliminary estimating, value engineering, budgeting, and on-site coordination and design between PCL, the audio/video designer and the hotel.

“Construction of the conference center didn’t have the challenge of the hotel because it was built as just one shell building at one time, not in stages or sections,” Grana said.

The telecommunication distribution system for the conference center consisted of four IDFs connected by a 24-strand 50-micron multimode, a 12-strand single--mode Corning fiber optic cabling, and by a minimum of a 200-pair copper backbone. Horizontal cabling consisted of a manufacturer-certified Category 6 Commscope Uniprise Solution and coaxial distribution. Typical workstation outlets consisted of two Cat 6 cables. Special purpose workstation outlets consisted of seven Cat 6 cables, two coaxial cables, four strands of 50 micron multimode fiber and four strands of single-mode fiber. Audiovisual cabling consisted of a Crestron solution, which tied into the lighting, audio and building management systems.

Working under general contractor Webcor, A-1 Electric Service Co. used a crew of six to install the building automation system for the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton Residences and hotel. It was a $600,000 project for the HVAC system, T-Stats and variable air volume boxes. It involved installation of an Automated Logic Corp.’s N2 communication trunk line that connects the end-user using an Automated Logic Corp.'s LGR to temperature-control panels throughout the building, which monitor and control air handler units, exhaust fan units, constant air volume units, variable air volume units, split system and package units, as well as other items.

“The system is very flexible and can interface with any kind of motor, fan, pump, valve, air handler, temperature controller and is able to monitor and control the devices in the building,” said Eric Cashman, project manager, A-1 Electric Service. Some typical points of monitoring and control are start-stop of units and motors; room temperature; VFD alarm, status, start-stop, fault and speed control; differential pressures; economizer damper control; supply and return air temp; modulating valve control; filter status; and building static pressure.

A1 also had a $100,000-plus contract working under PCL Constructors Inc. on the conference center and did low-voltage wiring throughout the hotels and conference center.

“The largest challenge,” Cashman said, “was dealing with the number of changes the owner wanted within the time constraints as the project developed—whether it was the location of a device or the way it interacted with a panel.”

The JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton tower is a new L.A. landmark, an easy-to-see, high-rise marker for the location of LA Live. The new destinations bring new life to downtown.

CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at and

About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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