HQ2 started construction at a rough time.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Amazon selected Bethesda, Maryland-based companies Clark Construction and JBG Smith to lead the $2.5 billion project’s first phase of construction and development. Neither firm could see the challenges just over the horizon.
Nevertheless, Clark took time to plan.
“Most people say the pandemic didn't start any trends — it accelerated trends that existed,” said Lee DeLong, CEO of Clark Construction’s Capital Group.
During the complex’s grand opening ceremony Thursday, DeLong told Construction Dive his team worked on planning for Amazon’s future second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, for over a year prior to starting work, which helped ease pandemic-related issues that plagued other builds.
“Our involvement with the project began quite early. And I think that's a recipe for success,” he said.
That planning helped lead the project to an on-time completion, culminating in Thursday’s grand opening of Metropolitan Park, the first of two planned phases of the HQ2 complex.
A giant complex
Met Park, as it’s called, features two 22-story buildings and includes more than 2.1 million square feet of space, a 2.5-acre community park and 50,000 square feet for retail businesses. In addition, builders used mass timber technology on the build, and the project team used concrete with carbon capture technology to reduce the building’s total emissions.
Amazon selected Arlington in 2018 following a competitive pitching process from other locations around the country. Met Park has been open since May 22.
DeLong said the pandemic put a premium on space, particularly for indoor projects. But, by a stroke of luck, the project had just begun the early stages.
“We were able to modify our construction techniques on site to ensure that workers were staying away from each other,” DeLong told Construction Dive at the event.
Modifications were no small feat, even as supply chains became snarled and labor issues intensified.
For instance, DeLong said that picking the right trade partners for the project was crucial. During the interview process, each potential partner produced a “manpower curve,” to forecast what their depth could be.
While estimates are important, many contractors also struggle to adequately staff their projects. On that front, DeLong praised the project’s prevailing wage agreement, a big get for enticing potential workers.
“When the wage is set at a prevailing wage, that's an attractive thing. So we were fortunate that our client made that commitment,” DeLong said.
Clark also thought out how to deal with material issues, particularly as other contractors across the country reported issues obtaining materials for their jobs. During construction of Met Park, DeLong said that the team put a cement batch plant at nearby Pen Place, the future site of HQ2’s planned second phase, lessening the waste and the time needed to move the crucial construction material to the jobsite.
Other Amazon facilities have had different trajectories in recent days. Amazon had closed, canceled or delayed nearly 100 facilities as of February. In nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, Amazon recently purchased nine office buildings, but instead of occupying them, the company plans to tear them down to build data centers.
In addition, groundbreaking has been delayed for Pen Place, HQ2’s planned second phase, which includes the “Helix” building, a spiraling glass tower with vegetation on the outside. Officials at the event and at a later panel said that the delay was due to an abundance of office space at Met Park, but offered no insights as to when the project will move forward.
Christian Dorsey, the chair of the Arlington County Board, told Construction Dive that he was confident Phase 2 would eventually break ground, and he estimated that more information would be available early next year.
“Amazon is doing what everybody else is doing right now, trying to figure out what the future of their office space requirements will be and seeing whether or not what they have approved still makes sense. So they're going through a period of figuring that all out,” Dorsey said.