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JJ Curran Crane Company Lifts New Cambria Hotel Rooms Into Place

by: Debra Wood
JJ Curran Crane used a Grove GMK6400 Crane to lift the modules into place atop the podium.
JJ Curran Crane used a Grove GMK6400 Crane to lift the modules into place atop the podium.
As a gigantic crane from JJ Curran Crane Company lifts each modular unit into place, the $50 million Cambria hotel in Detroit’s central business district moves closer to completion.

“It’s a great type of construction,” says Michael Firsten, Superintendent with the Means Group of Detroit, part of the lodging’s development team, 600 Ventures II.

Also involved in the 600 Ventures partnership are Koucar Management, of Troy Michigan, and Holdwick Development Group of Detroit. They partnered with Choice Hotels International. It’s the first new-construction hotel in the city during the past 15 years.

The upscale, six-story Cambria Hotel Detroit Downtown contains 158 guest rooms, a ballroom, two restaurants, a kitchen, and an outdoor bar and pool. The project also includes rehabilitating an adjacent historic building, designed by Albert Kahn. The 90,000-square-foot former television station is being converted into office space. A skybridge will connect the hotel to the offices. Gio-Con of Troy serves as the general contractor.

The 240,000-square-foot project received a Public Act 146 Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act tax abatement for the rehabilitation, a Public Act 210 Commercial Rehabilitation Act tax abatement for the new construction, and brownfield tax increment financing for the entire scope of the project, according to AKT Peerless Environmental Services of Detroit. The Michigan Strategic Fund Board also approved a tax abatement.

The Modular Method
Rather than constructing the hotel from the ground up, Means Group decided to use the modular method. Joe Fattore, Vice President of Construction for Means Group, says the company researched different construction methods and modular manufacturers before selecting Champion Commercial Structures of Troy. “There was good synergy between the parties,” says Fattore.
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Each unit is built offsite in a controlled environment, which ensures quality. There’s no worries about rain or snow hampering the workmanship.

Champion Commercial manufactured the 144 modular units for the hotel and managed the rigging team. The company operates 28 plants across the United States, serving all 50 states.

Means Group chose Krieger Klatt Architects of Royal Oak, Michigan, to design the project. Champion Commercial took the drawings for the hotel rooms portion of the project and developed a modular plan. Every box is drawn independently and has a unique set of details.

“We can be building the modules as they are building the podium,” says Steven Ayscue, Director of Construction for Champion Commercial Structures. “Once the podium is ready, we can set the modules on top of it and reduce the construction time by as much as six months. The quality is just as good.”

Champion Commercial inspects the modules as they are built. Each module takes 11 days to build from start to shipping to a storage site near JJ Curran Crane’s lot. The wood-frame units arrive with wallpaper, bathrooms, doors, everything except for the furniture.

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“Modular has been catching on,” Ayscue says. “Right now, you see a resurgence because of the availability of labor. We can keep people working five days a week, 52 weeks of the year vs. traditional construction where there are down days for rain and everything else.”

Firsten calls the modular method a good, sustainable way of building, with less waste and greater productivity. The company chose modular construction because its late owner, Eric Means, wanted construction to be as efficient as possible, with limited waste.

On the Cambria hotel project, the four stories of modules sit atop a podium, a two-level, 150-space parking deck. “This is the largest modular project in Detroit,” Ayscue says.

Work began on the project during the summer of 2019, and was scheduled for completion late in 2020. “It’s been going well,” Firsten says.

Crane Lifts are Key
Modular construction requires a skilled crane operator and a crane with the power and reach to accurately and smoothly lift each unit into place.

This Cambria hotel represents the second project JJ Curran Crane Company of Detroit has completed with Champion Commercial. It has another project on the books.

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The crane company, founded in 1950, works throughout Southeast Michigan and specializes in large construction projects and maintenance projects for heavy industry and refineries. It remains family owned and operated.

“I love JJ Curran,” Ayscue says. “It’s a great company to work with.”

Mark Wade, Vice President of Sales and Operations for JJ Curran Crane, adds, “We have a good relationship with Champion and look forward to more projects in the future.”

JJ Curran Crane provided the Grove GMK6400 Crane, which is lifting each approximately 40,000-pound modular unit into place. This six-axle, all-terrain crane features the best load chat in its class, a counterweight with hydraulic removal system, and the trademarked self-rigging MegaWingLift attachment that increases its lifting capacity 70 percent.

Collin Campbell, an experienced crane operator, communicates with the Champion crews the weight reading on each unit to ensure each lift is completed safely.

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“These cranes are particular, so we want someone comfortable with it,” Wade says. “Putting it together is a big ordeal. You have to have someone with experience.”

The 450-ton, all-terrain crane took JJ Curran Crane team members about six hours to add the 121-foot long luffing jib, a lattice boom, and put everything together. The crane was being operated with anywhere from 50 feet to 115 feet of main boom. The crane was moved three times to complete all sections of the building, due to the small available space for set up. “The space we have to sit in was limited,” Wade says.

The team set eight boxes per day and finished placing the units in 21 working days. Each unit has a shear wall and plates. Crews lag the units together at each story and at the roof. Overlaps are placed on the exterior to take the shear. Strapping is placed around the exterior and the interior walls.

“JJ Curran has a great reputation around the city, and we were happy to have them,” Firsten says.

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