The Peabody Orlando Expansion: Re-Inventing an Icon
Since 1986, The Peabody Orlando* has served the Central Florida community as a landmark convention hotel. From its signature resident ducks to its Four Star, Four Diamond status, The Peabody has long differentiated itself among rival properties. Balfour Beatty was entrusted to elevate the quality and luxury of this iconic hotel through a $262 million expansion that included a new, 690,000-square-foot, 32-story tower with 750 luxurious guest rooms and suites, a new convention center and a renovation of convention space in the existing hotel. Our work also encompassed the construction of a full-service spa, grotto-style swimming pool, shops and boutiques, a four-star restaurant, coordination of construction of the adjacent 2,800 car parking garage and 29 acres of sitework involving extensive utility relocations and upgrades.
The magnitude of the scope alone rendered this expansion a monumental undertaking, and so too did the limited laydown area that the project’s 1,200 workers had to contend with at the peak of construction. But the common thread that underpins every account of this project’s complexity is the fact that all work took place either in or around an active, fully operational hotel—with the promise of little or no disruption to The Peabody’s discerning guests. To fulfill this promise, Balfour Beatty created a four-prong strategy that included: 1) positive team approach with all disciplines; 2) project vision through the owner’s eyes; 3) best value and best schedule of constructability; and 4) maintain existing hotel’s four-star rating.
Taking Charge of Electrical Tie-Ins
Construction not only occurred around a fully operational hotel; it also took place in an active, densely populated area. The new hotel’s utilities had to be tied into the existing infrastructure—systems that also supported surrounding hotels, businesses and the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC). Further complicating matters, these systems existed under what would become the new hotel and convention center’s footprint, requiring all utility modifications to be completed before vertical construction could commence. In order to continue “business as usual,” tie-in activities were limited to off-peak hours. This placed the utility relocation phase of the project on the critical path for the first six months. Since the schedule could not accommodate re-work, special precautions were taken to ensure subcontractors had substantial reserves of both materials and staff to assist when unexpected glitches did occur.
Tying the hotel utilities into the existing infrastructure necessitated precise planning and implementation strategies. Connections to the Orlando Utilities Commission’s centralized chilled water delivery service—a 17.6 million gallon storage tank at the OCCC that at the time was the largest of its kind in the world—were especially complex. To accomplish this, the mechanical subcontractor designed and fabricated a 4,700-ton heat exchanger that was subsequently tapped into underground piping. Installation of the heat exchanger, which required the addition of extra supports to the mezzanine floor to support its immense weight, also entailed closing the OCCC’s main entrance and repairing the damaged roadway that resulted from the work. Similar efforts were repeated with the heat exchanger for the new tower.
Keeping Our Ducks in a Row
When a contractor is tasked with minimizing both the appearance and effects of construction activities—including the hotel’s most unique tradition, the daily march of mallard ducks from their penthouse home to the lobby fountain—perhaps no task is of greater importance than developing a meticulous schedule.
Balfour Beatty assigned a dedicated project team member to discuss all construction activities with the owner. The liaison utilized two week look-ahead schedules to inform the hotel about potentially disruptive work and helped plan it to occur during non-peak times including “quiet hours” while guests were sleeping. In addition, Balfour Beatty developed an innovative muffler system that was applied directly to construction equipment, substantially reducing noise outside of the guest rooms. This system became increasingly important during the busy convention season. To ease concerns, the project team conducted a test scenario, arranging muffler-equipped machinery outside a conference room and inviting hotel staff to experience the resulting noise abatement.
Other key challenges of The Peabody Orlando Expansion were phasing and permitting. In order to seamlessly combine the new hotel, the existing hotel and the convention center into one building, the project required extensive renovations across both ends of the existing building. This space, which was mostly back-of-house quarters, was renovated into public corridors, lobby extensions and pre-function areas. To prevent disruption, Balfour Beatty temporarily relocated the support services to a new location. Then, using a detailed phasing plan, our team completed the convention center first to accommodate the banquet kitchen, storage, loading dock and office space, allowing the renovation component of the project to begin. Similar phasing plans were also employed for the fire alarm, fire protection and smoke control systems.
Certain areas of the hotel required full access throughout the project including laundry facilities and the loading dock. Both of these areas needed to be closed—the laundry area renovated and expanded and the loading dock relocated altogether—all while remaining operational for daily hotel use. Balfour Beatty constructed a temporary loading dock while the new dock was being constructed. Once the new loading dock was complete and occupied, the temporary dock was demolished. During the renovation and expansion of the laundry facilities, our team proposed a plan to outsource the laundry, but the cost was prohibitive. Balfour Beatty devised a solution to compress the original six-month schedule into two-months by working overtime and in shifts.
“Our home has been reinvented in the best of ways, and we are thrilled with the result,” praised Barb Bowden, former general manager for The Peabody Orlando. “Most importantly, we are hearing rave reviews from our guests and staff.”
The Peabody Orlando Expansion project doubled the hotel’s capacity, but the real transformation occurred through its economic development value and the return that has been reaped throughout the entire Central Florida region. In recognition of Balfour Beatty’s exceptional performance, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Central Florida awarded the project with its highest honor in 2011: Project of the Year. Thanks to a team that managed to hide their work in plain sight, The Peabody Orlando’s jaw-dropping amenities will continue to draw tourists and convention travelers to this Central Florida beacon for decades to come.
*On October 1, 2013, The Peabody Orlando became the Hyatt Regency Orlando.