changing face of New York City construction has opened the
door for new players such as Hunter Roberts Construction Co.
But construction executives eyeing Big Apple building growth
say the market is hypercompetive and lacks management capacity.
Hunter Roberts is a new start-up
whose existence was revealed earlier this month when its chairman,
former Turner Construction Co. CEO Robert Fee, disclosed his
new venture and the recruiting of 11 former Turner executives
to join him. The timing is not accidental. Local industry
executives say the city is poised for a construction renaissance,
with Ground Zero rebuilding under way, plans for a new football
stadium that could generate redevelopment of Manhattans
West Side and zoning changes in Brooklyn and Queens that could
spark significant housing construction. That does not include
a local bid for the 2012 Olympics.
The new work comes at a time when
major building firms such as J.A. Jones and AMEC Americas
have left the market, or are about to. Executives hint that
a number of major firms that are foreign-owned have not delivered
financially, as hoped. "AMEC Americas has decided that
we dont want to compete in the high-risk commercial
market," says Roland Ferrera, business development vice
president. "Its not the panacea in the U.S. that
some thought," adds John Cavanaugh, former AMEC vice
chairman and a 45-year building industry veteran, who now
is a consultant in the city to Gilbane Building Co., Providence,
Hunter Roberts executives see the
market as perfect for a new entrant with old connections.
"Its all about opportunities," says James
C. McKenna, the firms president and CEO. He had been
head of Turners New York City unit. McKenna claims Hunter
Roberts U.S.-based financial backers are "well-capitalized
and substantial," but declines to reveal additional details.
But industry sources say one key
player may be George Jeffrey Records Jr., a prominent Midwest
banker, who is chairman and CEO of Midland Financial Co.,
Oklahoma City. Midland is the holding company for MidFirst
bank, one of the largest privately owned banks in the U.S
with assets of $9.5 billion.
Records reportedly has a long relationship
with former Turner Corp. Chairman E.T. "Bud" Gravette
Jr. and both are close to Fee, who left Turner in 2003. Records
was a member of Turners board in the late 1990s under
Gravette, and then asked Gravette to join MidFirsts
board. He did not return calls.
While market hopefuls such as Hunter
Roberts and Gilbane seek New York opportunities, sources say
they still will face cutthroat competition and fee-squeezing
by developers and other owners. "Owners want to squeeze
every competitor, and there are firms that will take it to
get the job," says one executive.