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Midwest Drywall Comes Up a Winner at Black Hawk Casino

To get the Black Hawk Casino by HyattTM built on time was a high stakes venture.. The construction of what was intended to be the largest and the most visitor-friendly of Colorado’s new wave of gaming establishments faced a number of obstacles. One was that the state legislature had limited gaming to only two acres in the state, one in the Southern part, and the other in the area around the city of Black Hawk. 8,000 feet up a mountain in fact, it was built directly up against the side of a mountain
across Highway 119 from a creek and

the center of Black Hawk.

To accomplish this, more than 650,000
cubic yards of granite had to be blasted
away from the 5.3-acres site, and hauled
up over the top of a hill to the east. This
demolition alone took almost seven
months before the actual construction
could begin in September 2000. And in
just 14 months, the casino, with
132,500 square feet of floor space, on
two levels, and the five-story 291,000-
square-foot parking garage were completed.

The project was developed by Dallas based
Windsor Woodmont and managed
by Hyatt Gaming. Its architect was
Paul Steelman Company, Las Vegas,
Nev., and the general contractor was
PLC Construction in Denver.

And one of the primary subcontractors
on the job was a member of the Association
of the Wall and Ceiling Industries—
Midwest Drywall Co., Inc. of
Wichita, Kan. Midwest got involved in
the competitive bidding in late 2000,
won the contract, and was on the site in
late January 2001. Midwest President
Steven Nienke says one of the main
challenges he faced was that Black Hawk
had its beginnings as a mining camp,
and had to have the original look of
stone and wood. “It was hard to get
workers out of Denver for the 45 or so
minute drive, and we had to come up
with a scheme to get the building done
without employing 50 stone workers,”
he says.

Changes, Substitutions
and Congestion

Other constraints included the fact that
the foundation was going in even before
the design was complete. Because of the
traffic congestion on Highway 119, no
deliveries were allowed on the site after
1 p.m. on Fridays or on the weekend.
Basically, as soon as anything was delivered,
it had to go up. And because the
site was so tightly wedged against the
mountain, workers had to park two
miles away and take a shuttle to the job.

“In addition to the very tight schedule,
there was an immense amount of
changes on the job,” Nienke says. The
solution Nienke came up with was using
faux or simulated material as a substitute
for most of the required stone or wood.
He faced stiff opposition at first, but
gradually prevailed. As he demonstrated
he could get results faster, in a cost-effective
way and in a manner still aesthetically
pleasing, he was given more responsibility
His original contract of about $7
million for the approximately $60 million
project grew to about $9 million.

“Originally, the owner would not buy
into the idea of faux stone, but a funny
little situation occurred in October,”
Nienke says. “Outside of four columns
at the entry, there was no other real stone,
only faux stone, but the owner came up
to me and said, ‘I love the faux stone,
why don’t we replace the real stone with
the faux?’ I said, ‘Let’s get it opened first,
and maybe do that in the spring.”’

“We basically did the structural steel
studs and framing, then finished the
building with faux products,” Nienke
says. “We used very little EIFS. Most of
the exterior was FRP fiberglass made to
simulate a lot of stone and wood siding.
We would come to the site with the premanufactured
pieces, put up the studs,
grout the voids, then faux paint them so
they came together.”

On the interior, Midwest used the
GFRG gypsum products to meet fire Vegas Roots
codes, both prefinished and finished on
the site, again to give a faux stone and
wood look of an old mining lodge. The
company also did the millwork (cabinets,
bars and granite counter tops).

Guests entering the foyer step into a
rotunda that is more than 60 feet high
and a gaming area surrounded by large
fireplaces. There are 1,350 slot
machines, 17 gaming tables and a poker
room on the second floor. Just beyond
is a large octagonal bar and entertainment
area called the Wildfire Lounge,
which leads to the food areas on all sides:
a large food court, an action-station buffet
with seven unique kitchens, a specialty
restaurant and a Starbucks.

The interior was designed with a “Rocky
Mountain-style” architecture. Despite
its mining camp patina, the casino really
has an upscale lodge atmosphere with
coffered ceilings, beautiful ceramic tiles,
the faux stone and rock designs, and an
enormous sky mural encircling the central
gaming area.

Midwest succeeded in translating the
typical gaudy gaming atmosphere into a
more sophisticated mountain lodge

“People will not believe the level of finishes
on this project,” says PLC Project
Manager Dale Kain. “It doesn’t look like
anything else in town. The theming is
more like the sophisticated interiors you
see in the big Las Vegas casinos. Midwest
did a fantastic job putting the architect’s
vision in place.”

Vegas Roots

Midwest did, in fact, do a theme job for
the Venetian® Las Vegas about five years
ago, which is how the company really
got started in this market. Nienke recalls
he got that job by default, for there were
only about four or five companies in the
country able to offer large theming
packages, and they all were busy. But
Midwest, which had done some small
theming projects, came to the bid with
recommendations, and also had the size
and skill to pull it off.

Since then the company has completed
the Beau Rivage Hotel Resort & Casino
in Biloxi, Miss., a number of mall and
retail theme projects, and will do a large
expansion for the Argosy Casino in
Kansas City, MO., starting this spring.

One reason Midwest got the Black
Hawk bid was that it offered a full onestop
package including not only theming,
but a number of other things as

“There were two drywall companies,
one from Denver and one out of state,
that were bidding just for that,” Nienke
says. “One theming company bid on the
interior, and another on the exterior.
Several millwork companies were bidding
for millwork alone. The owner,
architect and general contractor would
have had to deal with five to six contractors
that we put together in just

Midwest, instead of just doing a subcontracted
job it was paid to do, entered
into the creative design process.

“We had the overall concept on getting
the job done on time, but there were no
specifications on how you did the theming
package,” Nienke says. “We came up
with the fiberglass idea and showed
them how to do it, how to attach the
products to it, and how it was going to

Nienke’s intent, he explains, is to get
himself involved in a big project at the
start—even as early as being a part of the
architectural team. He likes becoming
part of the design, helping to put things
together, showing how particular products
work, how they are compatible with
others, offering specifics to meet building
codes, and helping with finishes, colors
and textures—putting it all together
in one package. As a result, he says, he
is able to do more negotiated work than
ever before, about 25 percent. Even on
the bid work, he says, “We’ll often be
given a second look.”

The Growth Continues

For the last several years Midwest has
averaged more than $100 million a year
in revenues, and is always operating with
more than 1,000 employees. The company
has eight offices throughout the
United States. The main one is Wichita,
with branches in Dallas, Denver, Las
Vegas, Nev.; Glenwood Springs, Colo.;
Oklahoma City; Omaha, Neb.; and
Shawnee Mission, Kan.

The main reason for the expansions, he
explains, is that Wichita is a smaller metropolitan
area, so when that market
started to reach saturation, it was time
to move to another. At this point, with
the Denver and Glenwood Springs
offices just three years old and a lot of
capacity still to be filled in several other
markets, he has no plans to expand.
Instead he plans to solidify and grow out
of what he has.

Another key reason for growing, Nienke
says, “is that we make a commitment to
our people. Most have been with us for
30 years. Each of our offices acts and
operates independently, and we do a lot
of training, so people can start at the
bottom but have an opportunity to
move upward. We don’t have nearly the
problem many others do with attracting
and keeping good employees. We have
a very good wage package, along with
medical benefits, bonuses and profit
sharing that we can put up against just
about anybody in the industry. It’s very
gratifying to hear about some of the
offers our lead guys get, and they just say
they are not interested, they have no
plans to leave this company they’ve been
here so many years, and they plan to
retire here.”

For a wall and ceiling contractor to have
so many different locations and have
them all work productively together is a
difficult feat. The fact that Midwest is
able to do it is a key to its success.

“All the offices share resources when
needed,” Nienke says. “We drew from
several locations to get the Black Hawk
job done on schedule, and capped out
at about 80 to 85 people just on that

Midwest also has an extensive equipment
base, including scissor lifts, forklifts
and a dozen motorized platform
scaffolds. The company owns about 75
percent of all its equipment, and all of
its facilities.

“We’ve grown with our own money,”
Nienke says.
In other words, Nienke may build casinos,
but he hasn’t gambled his way to

About the Author

Thomas G. Dolan is a free-lance writer
for the construction industry.

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