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Local developers embracing new modular construction technology

Local developers embracing new modular construction technology
Universal Resorts used FINFROCK's DualDeck Building System to complete the first two hotels at Endless Summer Resort in less than 18 months. The third and fourth hotels will be completed in 2020. (FINFROCK)

When Universal Resorts opens the doors to its Surfside Hotel at the Endless Summer Resort on June 27 -- just 15 months after groundbreaking -- it will be the fastest and most efficient hotel construction project the company has ever completed.

Russ Dagon, senior vice president for resort development at Universal, credits the design-build contractor, FINFROCK, for cutting labor costs and inefficiencies that can bog down typical construction projects and drive up costs.

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“We hired about 12,000 construction workers to build Cabana Bay in 2012,” Dagon said. “This hotel, we’re doing with about a quarter of the workforce.”

Dagon and FINFROCK President Bill Finfrock shared a panel this month hosted by Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Orlando) to discuss the advent of modular construction for hotel and multifamily assets in the Orlando market.

A construction worker oversees the placement of a FINFROCK DualDeck panel on an apartment building in Winter Park's Ravaudage development.
A construction worker oversees the placement of a FINFROCK DualDeck panel on an apartment building in Winter Park's Ravaudage development. (provided)

FINFROCK developed and patented its own form of prefabricated construction called “DualDeck” where the company designs, manufactures and installs concrete panels. The system uses a pair of panels with a 12-inch void that houses all of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. FINFROCK even owns its own software company that creates a digital twin of the building to ensure accuracy, and it has its own trucking division to deliver components from the factory to the job site.

In Universal’s case, it lead to a fairly seamless construction project with virtually no delays.

“The only change orders we had were things we screwed up,” Dagon said.

Jon McMillian, spokesman for hotelier AD1 Global, said the decision whether to build a modular hotel has to be made at the onset. AD1 breaks ground in June on a dual-branded Aloft and Element by Westin on International Drive, near SeaWorld. The company is also finalizing its permits for a hotel trio in the Four Corners area. It has never utilized modular or prefabricated construction.

“As a franchisee, we’re beholden to brand standards,” he said. “So the brand has to approve any type of design and materials. Once that type of hotel construction gets accepted by hotel companies, we can use it.”

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company, has fully embraced modular construction to the point that it’s now building and furnishing entire hotel rooms in offsite factories and stacking them into place. The company started construction in April on 26-story modular AC Hotel in New York City and expects to open it in late 2020 -- a timeline that would be impossible using traditional construction techniques.

Marriott International is building modular hotels by "stacking" prefabricated and prefurnished hotel rooms like these.
Marriott International is building modular hotels by "stacking" prefabricated and prefurnished hotel rooms like these. (Marriott)

Since the start of Marriott’s modular initiative in 2015, the company has opened 31 branded hotels -- all low-rise structures -- that incorporate prefabricated guestrooms and/or bathrooms.

Marriott is currently developing new modular prototypes for four of its higher-volume brands: Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield by Marriott, SpringHill Suites by Marriott and TownePlace Suites by Marriott. But until there’s a factory in the Southeast that can provide the “shrink-wrapped” hotel modules without exorbitant shipping costs, it’s unlikely the product will take off in Florida.

FINFROCK’s process adds precision and speed to the construction of the building shell, but the interior framing and finishing is done on site. The company showcased the DualDeck Building System with its first multifamily product in the local market: the Broadstone at Winter Park by Alliance Residential.

“This project was built in 12 months,” Alliance managing director Sean Flanagan told the CREW audience. He said the higher upfront construction costs were offset because the project starts generating revenue so much earlier than a traditional build.

“We were 70-percent leased before our competition down the street received their first certificate of occupancy,” Flanagan said.

FINFROCK started vertical construction in March on The Lake House, a joint venture with One Eleven Residential. In three months, the 9-story tower across from Lake Ivanhoe has already been topped off.

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Construction is moving along quickly on the Lake House Apartments, a nine-story tower in the Ivanhoe Village neighborhood just north of downtown Orlando. The complex across from Lake Ivanhoe will feature 252 units above 34,900 square feet of office space and 2,563 square feet for restaurants.
Construction is moving along quickly on the Lake House Apartments, a nine-story tower in the Ivanhoe Village neighborhood just north of downtown Orlando. The complex across from Lake Ivanhoe will feature 252 units above 34,900 square feet of office space and 2,563 square feet for restaurants. (Mark Skoneki / Orlando Sentinel)

FINFROCK is also the design-build general contractor for a 10-story downtown apartment tower, which starts construction in the fall, and for a student housing complex at University of South Florida. Bill Finfrock said the company will soon announce its first office tower.

ContraVest CEO Steve Ogier said DualDeck concrete is a great solution for urban towers, but it’s still too expensive for midrise suburban projects like the Addison-branded apartments his company builds in places like Millenia and Orlando Gateway.

Still, Ogier said he’s a big believer in finding a way to make prefabricated construction practical for wood-built housing. “The advent of technology makes it more feasible today than in the past,” he said.

He may have a found a solution that melds the high-tech design with traditional material components.

“I love what FINFROCK is doing, but pre-cast concrete is more expensive,” Ogier said. “I was in Jacksonville last week meeting with Innovative Construction Group. They do wall panels -- the whole shell. It’s like FINFROCK but for wood. They’re using laser technology, and they have these big, expensive machines out of Germany called autosaws to make the cuts. I was very impressed. That’s what I’m looking for because I know it’s the future.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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