Cincinnati's tallest skyscraper taking root in finely tuned production - A towering task

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Advisors Realty

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Reprinted from the Business Courier of Cincinnati - by Laura Baverman Staff Reporter

Might as well call Bob Grace a conductor.

Assigned to bring Cincin­nati's tallest skyscraper out of the ground, he orchestrates hundreds of contractors, an intense time schedule, tight staging area and the technically challenging assemblage of the building's crown jewel - the tiara that pays homage to the city's legacy. The Turner Construction executive oversees development of the Great American Tower at Queen City Square.

"(It) will change the skyline of Cincinnati," Grace said.

Twenty-five years since Western & Southern Financial Group awarded Turner and HOK the landmark project, construction has begun. By 2011, the 800,000-square-foot office tower will soar 660 feet, 86 feet above the peak of downtown's Carew Tower. The road there depends on careful planning by Grace and his team of 15 construction managers.

Address: 301 E. Fourth

There is no clear definition of a skyscraper. Some say it's any building exceeding 500 feet in height. Others define a skyscraper by its impact on a city's skyline.

Tower construction in the U.S. began soon after the first elevators were installed in 1857. But the first modern skyscrapers came when engineers began using iron and steel to construct buildings.

Turner Construction has built 11 of the world's 100 tallest buildings and will finish work on the $4.1 billion Burj Dubai in 2009. Its height, likely to top 2,600 feet, is a secret. Saudi Arabia is already out to top it, proposing a building called Mile High Tower to double Burj Dubai's size.

The last skyscraper built in Cincinnati was 312 Elm St., home of the Cincinnati Enquirer, completed in 1992.

Turner personnel

Turner has brought one of the company's most experienced high-rise contractors to assist the process. Jasper Defazio, a 33-year Turner veteran, has led the construction of buildings in Dubai, Taiwan and New York City. Grace has some experience with high-rise construction, too. He helped build downtown's 26-story U.S. Bank Tower as a co-op student at the University of Cincinnati.


The largest subcontracts, for steel, curtainwall and concrete, have been awarded to Owen Steel in Columbia, S.C., Antamex in Toronto and Baker Concrete Construction in Monroe. No local companies could handle the enormous steel or curtainwall requirement, Grace said.

"You can't afford to have a problem, so you don't take a whole lot of chances," Grace said. He expects to award more than $200 million in core and shell work to up to 30 prime subcontractors and 150 second-tier companies. During the peak of construction in March 2010, 750 people will work on site. The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority requires Turner to pay prevailing wage and meet small- and minority- business requirements.


  • Tons of structural steel 6,000
  • Tons of reinforcing steel 5,000
  • Cubic yards of concrete 62,000
  • Sq. ft. of curtainwall 320,000


Joe Hummel, executive director of Allied Construction Industries, expects the project to add to the local labor force. "The good news is it's a major construction project that will employ thousands of people. The bad news is it's a major project that we don't have experience in building," he said.

Preconstruction is the most difficult task. Turner must factor price escalation, subcontractor participation, cost management, scheduling and green-building standards. In addition, international building codes changed in 2007, so all initial design plans had to be altered.


Turner and HOK looked to the ABN AMRO Plaza in Chicago as a benchmark for the construction and design of the tiara. It has a significant architectural piece on top and a shell of curtainwall.

The tiara alone will cost $3M to $5M.

Grace calls the tiara the most technically challenging aspect of the building's construction. Spanning 130 feet by 130 feet and 250 tons, the tiara will be installed with electrical wiring mounted on it. Shipped from its manufacturer in Columbia, Mo., it will be partially assembled on the roof of the building's adjacent parking garage, 11 stories off the ground. A crane will lift it in chunks, and contractors will piece it together over three months in the summer and fall of 2010.

The tiara will weigh 250 tons.

Crane schemes

Four cranes will be used and will be tied to the structure every 50 feet to 75 feet. The largest, to hoist the tiara into place, will be on the north side.

As many as four temporary elevators will be installed in September 2009 to get workers to workstations high in the building. Even with the elevators, it might take 60 minutes to get some workers to their stations.

Turner considered two structural methods. The first - a steel frame with concrete encasement. The second - the method eventually selected - a stiff concrete core with elevators in the shaft. Here, the center of the building takes most of the structural load, eliminating the need for interior columns above the eighth level. Steelwork, which will follow about six floors behind the concrete, supports the floors. At street level, the building will look similar to 303 Broadway with granite and punch windows, aluminum framing and glass. The curtainwall enclosure begins at the fifth floor and continues to the top. When concrete work reaches the 16th floor, curtainwall contractors will begin.


The tower is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Green efforts include the installation of efficient heating and cooling systems, the use of coated, insulated glass to avoid heat transfer, a fresh air monitoring system on each floor, use of materials with low volatile organic compounds and recycled content and water conservation techniques.

After demolishing the parking garage on the site, O'Rourke Wrecking Co. has recycled the debris into material that can be used in the building's construction.

Staging area

The building is similar in size to Paul Brown Stadium. While the stadium is six stories high and wide, this building is 41 stories with 26,000-square-foot floor plates. It's easier to move horizontally than vertically, Grace said. The city has closed the sidewalk and curb lane on Fourth and Sycamore streets, giving Turner 25 feet for trucks to make deliveries to the site. Materials cannot be stored on the site, so careful scheduling is required.

Turner will spend $35,000 on temporary docks to facilitate the process.

Materials costs

Turner locked prices in early by ordering materials when it began a University of Kentucky project. But some material costs already had risen as much as 40 percent from September 2007 to May 2008. Western & Southern chose to overspend on three areas: 28 elevators with fast call times, curtainwall cladding and the tiara.

  • Land investment $22 million
  • Construction costs $260 million
  • Design costs $9 million
  • Financing costs $18.5 million
  • Soft costs $13 million


The building and land will be owned by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which has the ability to issue the necessary lease bonds. A contract with Western & Southern will allow the firm to master-lease it, said Susan Thomas, the Port's director of public finance. Western & Southern bears the burden of cost overruns.

The building's construction is financed through:


  • City grant $3.8 million
  • Port-issued lease bonds $220 million
  • Tax increment financing $54 million
  • Western & Southern* $39.8 million *half is land value

Time schedule

Workers will be on site from 5 a.m. to dusk. There is no accelerated construction built into the budget. Priority will be placed on the concrete and steel work.

"Until you get the structural trades up, there isn't any place for anyone to do their work. They create new space," Grace said.

Weather is the biggest challenge to staying on schedule. Turner plans for 20 to 30 days of high winds, freezing rain or sleet that could prevent steel erection from happening. Concrete can be poured in the rain or snow. A temporary roof might be installed above the 20th floor so tenant work can begin on the lower levels.

September to January 2008: Excavation, digging of a 50- to 65-foot hole.

January 2009: Mat footing concrete pour - a 24-hour continuous concrete pour will happen in January. Up to 30 trucks will line up to pour the foundation, six feet of concrete to form the base of the building.

2009: Vertical construction.

Mid-2010: Steel tops out.

December 2010: Shell complete.

Early 2011: Begin moving tenants into building.

End of 2012: 100 percent occupancy. 

  • 8,600 people will work in the building. Those workers will generate $55 million in taxes to the city over a 10-year period. Their salaries will pump $1.4 million annually to Cincinnati Public Schools.



Comments (7)

Brian Belcher
RE/MAX Executive - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Realtor

Great post.  Thanks for all the great information about your area.

Nov 15, 2008 07:54 AM
Lorena Westervelt
Van West Realty - Greenville, SC

Hello, welcome to Active Rain! This seems like a wonderful environment to network as well as learn from others. I hope you enjoy yourself and participate often in the Active Rain environment!

Nov 15, 2008 10:54 AM
Gwenn Tanvas
NEXA Mortgage LLC an Equal Housing Lender NMLS # 1660690 - Appleton, WI
The Mortgage Gal, 920.267.7891~ SMART - INNOVATIVE

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Nov 15, 2008 11:30 AM
Keith Elliott Jr
KEIRE Realty Group - Manassas, VA
Principal Broker/Owner

Hello Douglas,

Welcome to Active Rain and congrats on your first post! The opportunities to learn and network are incredible here. Best of luck to you!


Nov 15, 2008 11:35 AM
Kirk Westervelt
Van West Realty - Greenville, SC Realtor -Short Sale Expert! - Greenville, SC
Kirk Westervelt, Broker In Charge, Van West Realty - CDPE - Short Sale Agent - Home for Sale - Greenville, Simpsonvil...

Hello and welcome to Active Rain! I encourage you to learn from others, share your knowledge and experiences with all of us, enjoy yourself, and try to log in and join us in the Active Rain community as frequently as possible. I look forward to your future blogs and comments! Take care, --Kirk.

Nov 15, 2008 11:55 AM
Bill Kennedy
Keller Williams Greenville Upstate - Greenville, SC
Homes For Sale Greenville SC

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Write often, and write whatever comes to mind.  Blogs about personal topics and non-real estate items are often the best.  It helps your readers to bond with you, and ends up bringing you a lot of business!

Good luck with your future blogging.  If you'd like more info on points in Active Rain, I wrote a blog about it (click here). Feel free to ask me any questions if you need a hand!

Nov 15, 2008 01:37 PM
Jean Terry
Keller Williams Realty Spartanburg, S.C. - Spartanburg, SC

Hi and welcome to Active Rain, a great site to network, share, learn and have fun. Good Luck.

Nov 16, 2008 10:39 AM