Las Vegas Construction Meltdown

February 11, 2009
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I had heard that Las Vegas construction was in huge trouble. According to the reports, the financial meltdown had broken the city’s back. The cranes were idle, the jackhammers silent and the workers sent packing. Put a fork in all those huge building projects--they're dead.

Regardless, after a month of sub-zero temperatures in Michigan, I was thrilled to head to Las Vegas to attend three trade shows last week. Not only would I find out what flooring, roofing, and site prep pros are encountering, I could witness firsthand all those building projects left for dead.

To get a closer look, I strapped on my New Balance shoes and starting running. I made it about a hundred yards from my hotel, Planet Hollywood, when the giant PH Westgate Towers project gleamed at me.

Too bad it’s shut down, I thought. The building envelope was nearly complete.

But it wasn’t shut down. Workers were on the ground, in the building and yes, even operating a crane. At least one Las Vegas project was on track. 

I ran down Harmon Street until I came to some utility trucks near the Hard Rock Hotel. It appeared the cable and electric companies were installing new lines. Next to them was a worker on a hoist spray-coating a new parking structure. And just a few yards further was a large crew operating earthmoving equipment to reshape the hotel’s entrance.

OK, at least entertainment-themed hotels were still expanding. Yet I was certain the carcasses of dozens of buildings were just ahead on the Las Vegas Boulevard.

As I headed north on the strip, I braced for the worst. I was approaching the $8 billion City Center project, which had promised to redefine the Las Vegas skyline. Without a doubt, this mammoth project would be a ghost town, an eerie tribute to the depth of our economic crisis.

But surprisingly, even from a distance, I could see that the project had made significant progress since my last visit. The skeletal shape of numerous buildings came into view.

Once I got closer, I saw steel, cement and glass in great quantities, plus the foundations for some type of elevated tram system.

As I approached the site, I heard the wonderful sound of work vehicles, power tools and heavy equipment. Amongst the dust, dozens-no, hundreds of vest-clad construction workers peppered the buildings. And yes, even some cranes were operating.

I took a few moments to enjoy this scene. Construction pros were working all over Las Vegas. New construction had not ground to a halt. Most projects, while suffering, were still moving forward.

Yes, I know that project financiers and managers are still wringing their hands. They are deathly concerned their construction loans will be called, investors will bail and the funds needed to keep construction pros on the job will disappear.

But at least for now, those pros are still working. Let’s hope carpenters, plumbers, HVAC, stone and tile, drywallers, carpet layers, flooring installers, electricians and dozens of other tradesmen and women will get their chance to finish those jobs soon.

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