Birmingham-based Hoar Construction built the first phase of North Cincinnati’s impressive new $146 million, 1.1 million-square-foot, mixed-use development, Liberty Center (LC), which opened in October 2015.
The sprawling, glamorous center, off of I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton, houses popular anchor retailers such as Dillard’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods. It also is home to multiple restaurants — including Kona Grill — and a luxury, 14-screen movie theater featuring fine dining. In addition to 600, 000 square feet of retail, the center includes 100, 000 square feet of Class A office space, a 130-room AC Hotel by Marriott and 220 upscale apartment homes.
Steiner + Associates, a real estate development and master planning company based in Columbus, Ohio, tapped Hoar in the early stages of development to assist with planning, budgeting and other preconstruction services for Liberty Center.
“Our relationship with Steiner and experience with other complex mixed-use developments were significant factors in the award of Liberty Center, ” says Chris Feenker, Hoar project executive.
Steiner’s development partner for the project was Bucksbaum Retail Properties of Chicago. KA Inc. of Cleveland provided the architecture. Signature high notes of the development include a walkable, 75, 000-square-foot green roof, which in effect serves as a park-like community center at the heart of the property.
Hoar faced a tight construction schedule, completing an interrelated complex of retail, office, entertainment and living space, as well as three parking decks with underground storm water detention vaults, tree-lined pedestrian walkways and open community areas on the 64-acre site.
“Despite the challenges the team maintained the grand opening date by completing construction in a feverish 18 months, ” Feenker says. “I emphasize the word team because no one entity accomplished this alone. Steiner, KA, Hoar and our wonderful trade partners had one common goal: ‘Do what is in the best interest of the project, not ourselves.’”
With a compressed schedule, every structure at Liberty Center had to be worked on simultaneously. At one point during construction, 14 cranes were on site. The project was so massive and complex, Hoar alone had 21 superintendents working onsite and seven project managers working fulltime in the Birmingham office. In the face of labor shortages in the surrounding area, Hoar improvised by reaching out to masons in Arkansas and Kentucky to supplement existing crews.
“To say the least, coordination of this monster was a challenge, but we are used to that, ” Feenker says.
Major obstacles to the project included two harsh winters with 70 inches of snow and life-threatening cold temperatures. During record-setting lows, the area experienced a frost layer that ranged from 24 to 34 inches thick. It was so cold a D-8 dozer and 15-ton sheep’s-foot roller were frozen into the earth for a month. To keep building, concrete had to be winterized, a time-consuming process that requires water to be heated. Poured concrete was tented and blanketed so it would properly set in the cold temperatures.
But even with 191 days lost to construction and extra time needed for special processes to build in the cold when the team could work, the project was completed on time and on budget.
“Through impeccable coordination, we worked together and accomplished something to be proud of, ” Feenker says. “In my 20-plus years of construction, I have never worked with such a dedicated and professional group.”
The creation of the center’s signature green roof, which contains an irrigation system, required special attention and care, Feenker says. With a base of concrete poured on metal decking supported by enhanced structural steel, the roof is topped by soil, trees, grasses, sidewalks, concrete benches, a reflecting pool, three bridges, a catenary light system and more than 1, 000 linear feet of glass handrails.
An eye-catching mound, complete with a tree-lined spiral sidewalk winding up to the artwork-bedecked top, serves as the focal point of the green roof. Three sets of stairs provide access from the adjacent two-story Kona Grill and from a second fine-dining restaurant.
Hoar used foam material for up to six feet of fill in some areas to reduce weight and help with insulation for the green roof. “As a builder, the idea of putting an irrigation system on a roof and then loading the roof with soil, plants, trees and foot traffic is a bit unnerving due to the increased potential for leaks, ” Feenker says. “However, green roof construction is environmentally friendly and is becoming more prevalent. Green roof technology has come a long way. In the case of LC, our green roof has integrated digital sensors that detect water intrusion before it ever becomes a problem.”
The green roof at the center of Liberty Center now serves as a gathering place for the community and is used for weddings, other social gatherings and events, as well as fitness classes. The special roof is surrounded by a chapel and community hall, as well as the two upscale restaurants. “I do think we will see more green-roof construction in the future — especially in dense urban settings where land is at a premium, ” Feenker says. “As you can imagine, green roof construction is more expensive than conventional roof construction, but there are many intangible benefits.”
Hoar is proud of its role in the creation of Liberty Center, one of the few regional shopping centers to open in 2015. LC has quickly become a regional destination and retail and entertainment magnet, Feenker says. Several national retailers, including Cabela’s, have built on adjacent properties. “The center is located in the West Chester Township, which is a growing suburb about 30 miles north of Cincinnati, ” he says. “Much like the impact that Riverchase Galleria had on Hoover, LC has become a catalyst for positive growth in a once rural area. The development has a tremendous impact on the economic well being of the community. Some 3, 500 jobs have been created and it is estimated LC will generate an annual tax revenue between $600, 000 to $800, 000.”
Hoar contributed to the local area by collecting scrap metal produced during construction of the project and donating all $12, 000 from the recycling proceeds to the local children’s hospital. Steiner is continuing to contribute to local charities through donating 100 percent of the proceeds from parking meters placed in the center’s premium parking locations.
“Work takes Hoar all across the country and it is our philosophy to leave the local community better than we found it, ” Feenker says.
Kathy Hagood is a Homewood-basedfreelance writer for Business Alabama.
Text by Kathy Hagood