Procore set out to find the companies, projects and individuals that stood out for their bold achievements in construction. Among the 24 outstanding finalists selected, eight were named winners of the 2021 Groundbreaker Awards. This article is the fifth in an eight-part series spotlighting each winner.
Nestled between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas on picturesque Mackinac Island, the historic Grand Hotel has welcomed guests to its sprawling grounds on the coast of Lake Huron since 1887. Among its most famous patrons were five U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain.
One of the most recognizable features of the Grand Hotel is the iconic Esther Williams swimming pool, named after the swimming champion turned actress who starred in aquatic musicals and became one of the world’s most popular movie stars in the 1940s and ’50s. This 220-foot long hourglass-shaped pool was built in 1920. But, more than a century of harsh Northern Michigan winters eventually took its toll on the magnificent pool, resulting in water leaks and a decline in the structure’s overall condition. The surrounding pool area itself also badly needed updating as it lacked many of the amenities expected at a luxury resort.
Davidson Hospitality, who manages the Grand Hotel on behalf of owners KSL Capital Partners, tackled the extensive Esther Williams pool renovation project during the hotel’s winter off-season, with the company’s design and construction team serving as project manager.
In spite of the logistical challenges that come with doing construction work on an island that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles and the ever-present threat of the winter freeze, Davidson Hospitality pushed through the obstacles. It assembled a team that successfully restored the pool to its former glory while significantly upgrading the surrounding area.
A Long, Hard Winter
Michigan winters are notoriously bitter. It’s particularly the case in Northern Michigan along Lake Huron, where Mackinac island is located. It’s why the Grand Hotel closes its doors from November to May each year. Therefore, the Davidson team had to brave the frigid weather to complete the $10 million renovation project by Memorial Day, in time for the hotel to reopen. Nearly 100 construction workers lived on the island throughout the winter to complete the project on schedule.
Even under the best of circumstances, construction deadlines are notoriously tight. Since Mackinac Island restricts the use of motorized vehicles nearly all site and construction materials had to be delivered to the island by ferry boat and brought to the project site by a horse-drawn cart. Fortunately, Davidson was able to obtain special off-season permits to use excavation equipment and concrete mixing trucks. All motorized vehicles would be forced to vacate the island in early May, though. This meant if the heavy equipment was still needed at that point, the project would have been delayed through the summer.
While the team wisely sourced materials for the project well in advance to ensure no supply chain interruptions, all the works were weather dependent. After all, if the Straits of Mackinac froze over, the ferry boat deliveries would be abruptly cut off. Had that happened, the only access to the island would have been by air or using snowmobiles over an ice bridge.
Keeping Workers Safe and on Track with Procore
With a tight schedule and looming threats of weather-related delays, Davidson’s construction team relied heavily on technology to complete the work safely and on time.
Procore was used for project management and was instrumental for tasks including RFIs, drawings, scheduling, meetings, and submittals. Procore helped keep the project on track and ensured the construction team could identify and resolve any issues quickly.
Work pressed on as a global pandemic raged around them. The team managed all RFIs, submittals, and correspondence electronically to keep the project team in sync when COVID-related travel restrictions curtailed their ability to meet on-site. Weekly OAC calls were held virtually, including upwards of 20 hotel staff and members of Davidson’s design and construction teams. This allowed all stakeholders to continue to work collaboratively to complete the project.
A Seamless Melding of Classic and New
In the end, the Esther Williams pool was repaired and reopened in time for tourist season. Davidson took great pains to preserve the pool’s historic character while upgrading the surrounding area, making some significant improvements.
Davidson added a new family-friendly area, complete with a zero-depth beach entry and a water slide. There are also 15 luxurious poolside cabanas where guests can enjoy full food and beverage service, a full kitchen and a brand new bar, a greatly expanded seating area, and a brand new heated whirlpool with an adults-only infinity pool, with panoramic views of the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Bridge.
The project was also a much-needed boon for the local economy which was reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly every subcontractor and material supplier was based in Northern Michigan.