When it comes to commercial contracting, hotel work is a different animal. Time is always an issue in construction, more so with renovations. Being on time and on budget is especially critical in light of the potential for lost revenue when rooms and public spaces are out of commission.

One renovation expert well versed in the challenges of quick turnarounds in the hotel renovation business is David Burman. He's president of First Finish, Inc., a Maryland-based turnkey operation specializing in renovations for the hospitality industry. Burman's background includes ff&e purchasing, project management and labor contracting. He and partner Tim Prager, who has more than 19 years experience as a director of engineering (six with Marriott Hotels), offer their take on getting that renovation project done on time and on budget.

“You can't put just any kind of contractor in an occupied hotel,” says Burman. “Contractors must be extremely sensitive to occupancy. They must be very neat, clean and have excellent systems in place.” Burman says it's important that the contractor know and understand the hotel business. “Most of our staff have previous hotel management experience and know what challenges to anticipate.”

Another key is planning ahead (see lead story, Eight Ways to Reduce Construction Costs).

Other keys to a successful renovation include:

Give your architect and interior designer a budget and stick with it. That may seem obvious but “too often we're brought into a job and the design is over budget and we have to go back and value-engineer the plan and that takes time,” says Burman. “I always tell my owners they have to manage their architects and designers like a contractor or subcontractor and give them parameters.”

Communication, communication, communication. It's critical to keep all parties informed during the project. Keep all key people in the hotel in the loop, including the front desk manager, housekeeping manager, sales staff and director of engineering. “It lets everyone feel they're part of the team and makes for a more successful renovation,” says Burman.

“We hold a kick-off meeting to get hotel staff excited about the renovation and then weekly meetings to review work from the previous week and the upcoming week's schedule.” That's particularly important when a contractor plans on some heavy jackhammer work, for instance.

Tap the expertise of your on-site engineer. “During the bid process we tear the plans apart and get the engineers involved so we can get to know his building and tap into his experience,” says Burman. “This lets us anticipate what issues might arise and help prevent a bunch of change orders down the road.”

Have good on-site supervisors. You want a dedicated site super, says Prager, not just any working person or subcontractor. “You want sharp managers who can problem-solve, with experience and strong hotel construction backgrounds,” says Prager. “Our supers live on the property during the renovation and this allows them to be very responsive to daily issues. On any given day you're given 10 curve balls and being there 24/7 micromanaging helps to reach the target finish date.”

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