In Southern California, large multifamily residential projects are growing vertically—in towers, high rises and other multibuilding complexes. Orange County electrical contractor SBE Contracting (formerly Stout and Burg) is front and center of this movement.
It has been a tumultuous decade for California’s economy and, particularly, the state’s residential building market. According to Freddie Mac, nationwide multifamily property values dropped by 40 percent from their peak in 2006 and 2007 to 2009’s third-quarter trough. Since then, values have been recovering, and construction has re-emerged in urban and suburban locations around the United States. This is especially pronounced in Anaheim, which is also seeing economic growth.
Prior to the 2008 recession, the Anaheim area hosted multiple condominium projects, but many jobs halted when the economy tanked. A new movement has brought a different kind of residential construction to the area—urban, high-density rental apartments for people who want city amenities, access to public transit and the convenience of a short commute.
SBE gets started
Initially, SBE Contracting, founded in 2004, did not focus on residential work.
“We were heavily involved in data center and solar work [from the outset],” said Jeff Wilson, co-founder and CEO.
The company has since provided turnkey solutions for communications, structured cabling, data center environments and solar/photovoltaic systems. SBE offers design/assist and design/build work to include utility construction into larger projects, and it has done some low-voltage work. SBE Contracting offers services that include inspections, testing, maintenance and emergency response, and it has opened a division for each.
When alternative energy became attractive to customers in Orange County, SBE expanded into that market in 2008 and has completed numerous solar-power projects. For instance, in 2013, the team completed work on a vast, 2.08-megawatt, utility-scale solar-power farm with 7,300 panels in California’s High Desert region. During the 60 days the crew was on-site, the workers completed the installation in the midst of dust storms, with winds of more than 100 miles per hour blowing through almost daily.
More recently, the company saw value in the numerous tenant improvements within multifamily projects in Southern California, and it added these sectors to its service portfolio. Today, SBE Contracting is heavily involved in large, private multifamily projects in the region through partnerships with Raissens Electrical Contracting, Scottsdale, Ariz.
One example is the Katella Grand Apartments project at the Platinum Triangle in Anaheim, owned by developer The Wolff Co. Led by general contractor Summit DCK, the Katella Grand is located near Angel Stadium, Honda Center, the Grove concert venue and Disneyland.
Commonly referred to as the Downtown District, the Platinum Triangle is the epicenter of multifamily construction in Orange County. Construction there aims to convert industrial and commercial space to a more urban zone that mixes housing with commercial and retail occupancies, including apartments, condominiums, office towers and stores.
In 2008, Anaheim city planners announced an expansion of the initial Platinum Triangle proposal, doubling the number of housing units and commercial office space from the original plans. Now, the work is getting done; 16 projects are either planned or under construction for a total of 18,363 homes, 5.7 million square feet of commercial space, and 16.8 million square feet of office space. This brings a new kind of density to a city that has been historically sprawled out. Anaheim’s 350,000 people are distributed over 50 square miles. The new housing density brings the population closer to shopping, entertainment and public transit.
With the changing construction model that’s taking place in Anaheim, SBE Contracting began looking at how it could reposition itself to compete in this changing and slimmer market. Wilson said growth is still ongoing in two areas: hospitality and multifamily residences.
To compete in the housing market, SBE is taking advantage of the construction wireman (CW) and construction electrician (CE) classifications to employ more electricians at a rate that keeps them competitive when bidding for projects. (The CE and CW classifications allow companies to hire journeymen and apprentices at lower composite labor rates.) By doing so, SBE has positioned itself as a contractor with cost-competitive installations for Southern California’s housing market, such as the one at the Platinum Triangle.
Since cost is a central concern, SBE Contracting also offers value engineering for its clients to help them find ways to reduce their budgets.
The majority of the multifamily residences in the area consist of a cluster of multiunit buildings surrounding a parking structure. The Katella Grand, with nearly 800 units, is divided into two phases. The first consists of a 400-unit apartment complex with a six-story parking garage. The first quadrant of that first complex is already being leased to residents while the remaining units are still under construction. The second phase, "Vista," is just starting this year. The Jefferson Platinum Triangle project has been underway for a year.
The company is installing about 7,000 lighting fixtures and hundreds of thousands of feet of cable for all three projects. The Katella Grand alone has five main electrical rooms.
The Katella Grand project required an extensive preconstruction phase, according to DCK, followed by Phase I—comprising a six-level parking structure at the center of the development with a four-story, 399-unit apartment complex featuring studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units wrapped around it. SBE did the utility work for Anaheim Power.
The Phase I complex features units running from 617 to 1,492 square feet each. It also includes a state-of-the-art fitness center, swimming pool, coffee bar, expansive lobby area, multiple TVs in a public viewing area and meeting rooms. SBE has had about 35 workers on-site at the project peak.
Katella Grand’s Phase II Vista project includes the five-story, 386-unit apartment building that completely surrounds a seven-level parking garage. The apartments consist of studio and one- and two- bedroom units. The facility includes a rooftop amenity deck at the parking garage and features a fitness room, yoga lawn, sports court and urban garden.
In addition to the Phase II units, SBE is wiring the Jefferson Platinum Triangle, a complex totaling four buildings for multifamily dwellings.
The Jefferson Platinum Triangle is another 400-unit space that began construction in early 2015. Like the Katella Grand, it is located next to the ARTIC Amtrak Station, the streetcar stop and the sports venues. National developer JPI/TDI Cos. owns the project. At Jefferson Platinum Triangle, SBE has thus far roughed in the framework on two of the buildings, according to Mike Caropino, SBE Contracting project manager.
For both complexes, SBE redesigned the electrical systems to make them more effective than the initial plans would have and to save the customers money, Caropino said.
According to Wilson, most of the residential work being done at the Platinum Triangle has been straightforward. SBE subbed out trench and other digging requirements to a local company. Equipment, cable and piping staging has not been a challenge, and the work is getting done on time. No prefabrication is necessary because the company uses the redesign work to get the installation in and on-site efficiently.
Getting the work done is one matter, but getting it done safely is another. Caropino said weekly safety meetings ensure the work gets done without injuries.
The secret to success
Ultimately, SBE intends to bid on more urban housing projects as residential growth continues.
Wilson touted his company’s competitive rates as well as the manpower and work at hand.
“We have about 40 to 50 men altogether doing residential work,” Wilson said.
A practice of continually keeping an eye on market trends has helped contribute to SBE’s success.
“We have a formula that’s working,” he said. “I think residential work will be strong for the next three to five years."