ECs at the Epicenter

If you are going to be in San Francisco, put Westfield San Francisco Centre on your list of things to see. Located between Market Street and Mission Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets, it’s only a few blocks from the Moscone Convention Center. Approach from Market Street to see the historic 1896 Beaux Arts facade restored to resemble The Emporium, once dubbed “The Grandest Mercantile Building in the World.”

Groundbreaking was in November 2003, and the shopping center opened in September 2006. During construction, the 102-foot-wide, 500,000-lb. steel-and-glass dome from the 1900s—which has long been the signature feature of the building—was raised nearly 60 feet and held in place for more than a year, as ironworkers built a new steel structure around and under it. It was then lowered 2 feet to its place atop the reconstructed Emporium building, which was connected on five levels to the adjacent San Francisco Centre. Natural light filters through the dome onto the 200-foot-long atrium. The effect is “Wow!”

The 1.5-million-square-foot, nine-level center is home to the 338,000-square-foot West Coast flagship of Bloomingdale’s and the second-largest Nordstrom in the United States, 170 specialty stores and boutiques, restaurants, an international gourmet marketplace, and a nine-screen state-of-the art movie theater. Tenants, including Microsoft and San Francisco State University, are in a total 245,000 square feet of office space. The $460 million project is a joint venture between The Westfield Group and Forest City Development.

Westfield managed project development during construction. As a subcontractor to Westfield, Swinerton Builders oversaw the largest tenant fit-out projects—Bloomingdale’s, the San Francisco State University downtown campus and Century Theatres. A host of other companies also served as subcontractors to Westfield, functioning as general contractors on individual projects. Some of the electrical contractors that worked as subcontractors include Alight Electric, Barri Electric Co. Inc., Cupertino Electric Inc., Decker Electric Co. Inc., Dynalectric Co., E J Weber Electric Co., M3 Electric Inc., McClure Electric, McMillan Electric, Metropolitan Electrical Construction Inc., Morrow-Meadows Corp., Paganini Communications Inc., Sasco Electric, Sierra Electric Co. Inc. and Young Electric Co. Inc., all of the San Francisco area.

During construction, more than a hundred projects were going on simultaneously. Except for a few, all projects had to be completed by the grand opening in September 2006.

Logistics were part of the challenge. Deliveries to this center-city location went to one loading dock, and all 120 tenant contractors shared the few freight elevators to transport themselves and their materials.

“It was pretty chaotic. There was trade on top of trade on top of trade. And every store was getting everything delivered at the same time,” said Tom Carmody, project manager, Metropolitan Electrical Construction Inc., the company that worked as a subcontractor to Fisher Development Inc. on the retail build-out of two stores.

“The set of elevators was on the opposite side of the building from where we were working,” said Matt Sullivan, general manager, Sierra Electric Co. whose company worked on restaurants as a subcontractor to Josh Klein Construction and on a jewelry store as a subcontractor to Plant Construction. “When we had a delivery, one of our crew had to walk the length of a city block to the other side of the building, then wait in line to board an elevator.”


City regultations also complicated the situation.

“All the places turned out very nice,” said Ernie Ulibarri, president, Barri Electric Co. “But all of the electrical contractors had a small window to complete a massive project, especially in light of the fact that, here in San Francisco, we have seven-hour work days.” Barri worked under general contractor Terra Nova Industries to do $1 million of lighting and power distribution for six restaurants and two stores.

In spite of the conditions, electrical contractors devised ways to complete their projects on time. Sasco Electric, as a subcontractor to Westfield, did the core and shell.

“Everybody did a good job,” said Bill Wong, owner, Alight Electric, a subcontractor to Sasco that handled the $1.7 million temporary power job, did the basic electrical and worked on two stores.

“Coordination was key for us,” said Dan McAtee, project manager, McMillan Electric. His company used 10 people on projects amounting to $450,000, including a restaurant under general contractor R.N. Field Construction Inc., a retailer for Scott Thomas Construction Inc., and five restaurants for Wae Construction Inc.

“Basically, we talked with the general contractors to find out what phase was going to be on-site on a particular day, and then we’d try to get in before them to get our electrical work done. My general foreman also did a good job of getting to know the people at the loading dock, so he was able to do a lot of scheduling. That worked out pretty well for us,” McAtee said.

Trained electricians were at a premium. “We relied heavily on the local union hall for manpower and worked overtime as required when the owner-furnished fixtures arrived,” said Wayne Huie, president, Young Electric, which did the electrical on several projects totaling almost $600,000 under general contractors Oakstone Construction, Skyline Construction Inc., RMR Construction Co., and Swinerton Builders, general contractor for retail planning and construction.

E J Weber Electric Co., completed the electrical work on nine stores.

“We kept our people on the go. Coordination of manpower and even keeping the materials straight was pretty difficult, and it was very complicated in terms of getting inspections for the electrical and life safety,” said James Coffman, E J Weber president.

Morrow-Meadows worked under general contractor Taisei Corp., a Japanese firm with an office in San Jose, Calif., on a $2 million build-out of a Century Theatre nine-plex.

“We knew that the biggest challenge for us was to get the projection rooms done early since they were labor-intensive, and they needed to be turned over to the owner prior to opening so the rooms could be programmed, balanced and started up. Making the final date required two authorized weekends of overtime,” said Jim Goetz, vice president and general manager, Morrow-Meadows, Northern California Division, whose work force peaked at 20. “Of the theaters we’ve done, this job was the most challenging because of the five-month timeline and its location on the fourth level of the construction site. We were able to meet the schedule because of our preconstruction planning, but every day, there were new challenges,” said Goetz, whose project included the complete electrical system along with wiring the surround sound, projection rooms and three concession stands.

“Borders bookstore is one of the only stores in the mall that used conduit to install all lighting and power. No MC cable was allowed,” said Tom McClure Jr., president and project manager, McClure Electric Inc., whose company did all the lighting, power and fire alarm for Borders (a three-month, $450,000 project as a sub to Swinerton Builders), for a $95,000 project for general contractor Bevilacqua and Sons, and for a $70,000 project for Signature Construction.

“To make sure the project would be completed before the mall was opened, our 14-person crew worked overtime during the week and Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

Cupertino Electric (CEI) was a subcontractor to Swinerton Builders on Bloomingdale’s, a nine-month, $8.5 million project, involving 69 separate vendors and more than 12,000 lighting fixtures. The company peaked at 80 electricians.

“Due to our innovative method of prefabbing the light fixture components,” said Tom Kirwan, project manager, Cupertino Electric, “we were able to keep up with the project schedule. Since all the vendor shops brought in their own designs the last month of the project, the construction teams worked around the clock. And it was completed on time due to the instantaneous decision-
making and construction expertise of the joint efforts of Cupertino, Swinerton and Federated [Department Stores].”

CEI also worked under general contractors Lakeview Construction and Fisher Development Inc., Trainor Commercial Construction Inc., Commercial Contracting Management Inc., and International Contractors Inc., using 28 workers at peak for a different 17-week project for the electrical and life safety and security systems on several stores.

“We received our deliveries at night or had our workers receive them on Mission Street to avoid the loading dock,” said Philip Singler, project manager, Cupertino Electric.

CEI also did the electrical for San Francisco State University, on the fifth and sixth floors of the Centre, as a subcontractor to Swinerton. Paganini Communications, also a Swinerton subcontractor, installed the voice/data/video cabling for a complete cabling infrastructure. The company used nine IBEW sound and communications technicians, trained in voice/data/video and Uniprise Solutions by CommScope. From the main server room workers ran fiber, copper and coax to various other IDF closets throughout the fifth and sixth floors and then to classrooms, labs and office spaces.

“It was a high-profile project that we are happy to have worked on,” said Larry Andrini, vice president, Paganini Communications.

The owner was pleased, too. “We’re thrilled with the results. The expertise ... helped shape the Centre’s status as a world-class retail, business and entertainment destination,” said Steve Eimer, vice president for development for Westfield. “Thanks to the work of hundreds of skilled contractors, a strategic site to the city has been reinvigorated as a retail hub, drawing customers from around the world.”       EC

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 or


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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