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Advertorial copy published previously by Construction Communications.

Suitt walks tall in design-build, public sector 

The long-term goal for Suitt President and CEO Don Warren is to be the most sought-after construction services partner for the 21st century. For some, a lofty benchmark indeed. For others, realistically unattainable. For Suitt, it’s a firm reality.

Adaptability and growth are clutch to making a mission statement like that work. For Suitt Construction, with a near reinvention of its goal path in the wake of 9/11, and a blazing early success into the previously unchartered public sector, a peek at a master plan for the 22nd century might not be too far off.

With a keen mastery of design-build, preconstruction and facility operations, Suitt has wasted no time in becoming a leader in construction services. And while its resume is nothing short of a top-shelf litany of accomplished services — from site management, cost control and financing, to a proven and respectable player in automotive, food and beverage, hospitality, pharmaceutical/biotechnology, process, general manufacturing, entertainment, textiles and a host of others — Suitt remains true in its commitment to growth and success.

The impact of 9/11, not just emotionally for the nation, as well as Suitt and its employees, meant pause for the company’s leaders as how to best assess the landscape of commercial construction. And, like a lot in industries, Suitt found itself in the unenviable position of re-establishing itself in a considerably tighter economic climate, one where a focus of big spending on what was previously standard projects, eventually evaporated. With that, Suitt found itself exploring the public sector. And like every endeavor it has pursued since its 1968 inception, early success was unavoidable.

With events that shook a country came a mess of economic problems. Chief of them, large-scale, construction-based projects. So much so, Suitt lost approximately $150 million in canceled contracts and would face another six months of no-sells to private industry.

“It forced us to accelerate our interests into the public sector,” said Warren.

Acceleration aptly portrays Suitt’s entry to the public sector. In two years, Suitt has won a wealth of work servicing university educational systems for North Carolina. By November 2003, Suitt was engaged in five projects in the UNC network. Having the keen sense to capitalize on a ripe fiscal situation, thanks to a huge bond issue for UNC systems a few years back, Suitt hit a perfect bull’s eye by letting its strengths in research and development, and laboratory experience, speak to the company’s worthiness. And when you have a proven background in design and build of classrooms and labs, and the expertise to deal with the upfits, retrofits (and seemingly anything else) that comes with them, successfully moving forward into a new public sector appears seamless.

By the end of 2003, Suitt’s public sector projects ranged from a grassroots building at UNC-Asheville to a huge scientific research facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. There, Suitt is outfitting the Institute of Science Research (a research arm of NASA and the Department of Defense) with a facility that will house one of the world’s fastest supercomputers. All told, Suitt had five ongoing projects in the UNC system.

Additionally, Suitt is working with the School District of Greenville County, where another design-build has them constructing a two-story, 79,000-square-foot structure to house kindergarten and first-grade students, as well as a media center, cafetoriums (a cafeteria-auditorium design combination popular in cutting edge schools), kitchens, administration area, special education and a gymnasium. Second- through fifth-graders will be housed on the second floor.

A $12-million science building at Longwood University, part of the University of Virginia, one that houses 20 classrooms and labs, 28 faculty offices and additional space for research is also on Suitt’s list of high-tech projects. Suitt’s strong pre-construction team and the reputation that precedes it, is primarily responsible for landing $9.1 million jobs like the Greenville County intermediate school.

“Through a pretty focused initiative,” Warren said, “we went after qualification-based university work, scientific projects and laboratories.”

And beyond that, too. Another public sector project expected to finish in summer 2004 is a two-hangar bay facility at Pope Air Force Base. In addition to the areas of entertainment, hospitality, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, processing, textiles and general manufacturing that Suitt has proven expertise and success, Suitt is also beginning to shine in health care. Suitt made a stunning debut into this field, landing quickly two hospital jobs, including a $13-million Central Energy Plant at the Patewood Campus of Greenville Hospital Systems.

`”At the same site is a $5-million parking deck,” Warren said. “We let these two projects serve as our entry into the health care business.”

Suitt has also broken serious ground in automotive facility design and manufacturing. Having connected with approximately 20 different automotive supplies on a variety of levels, Suitt has also served BMW in Greenville and Honda in Alabama with their design-build needs.

From winning big work on a federal, state and local level, Suitt officials remain fresh in their focus of not only where they’re headed, but hold a tough reminder of where things once sat. Reeling from an intense economical storm where a public sector composed, literally, 0 percent of Suitt’s work to that being a project 20-25 percent of annual work, Suitt’s ability to rebound is but a part of its sum.

“Even though were doing $400 to $500 million a year, we’re still a flexible, adaptable company that took a tragedy that seriously impacted our business and made adjustments,” Warren said. “Because of 9/11 and our entry into the public sector and health care, we just completed a three-year strategic campaign. Essentially, we doubled our profit. We have involved some 60 of our associates in our strategic plans. We have objective, attainable goals.”

And those attainable goals are not limited to one industry. Maintaining a presence in a variety of arenas is a huge cornerstone to Suitt’s image. Focusing on markets not so prone to gloomy economic climates, as well as the shift from keying mainly on manufacturing to spreading it out a little, are all major components in Suitt’s ability to adapt and re-adjust.

“We went from being a general contractor to being a nice contractor,” Warren said. “We are in what I like to call recession-resistant industries, areas like pharmaceuticals, food and health industries. We knew that were in cyclical businesses, hospitality and entertainment. The original Suitt focus was building manufacturing.

“There have been a number of jobs that have been lost,” Warren added. “From a construction point of view, there are a lot of empty plants in the southeast. We definitely had to diversify. What has been 25 percent of our business side will be about 15 percent. And our public sector will grow to 25 percent.”

And grow Suitt will. Company officials state that 2003 was a record sales year, with roughly $650 million in new awards, one of which was the Eli Lilley Insulin Plant in Manassas, VA.

“That facility is a more than $500 million investment,” Warren said. “We are going to leverage that, taking Suitt from a regional player to a national players in the bio/pharmaceutical arena.”

Started in 1968 at a kitchen table with the owner and his wife, Suitt’s success today is a perfect reflection of the experience and confidence necessary to forge a name in the construction industry. What started as a trades guy in his kitchen saying, “I think I can do this if I went out of my own,” is now a regional and international construction powerhouse with seven offices, more than $650 million in sales and 500-plus people earning a company paycheck.

But, a reputation isn’t built and fortified by accident. Suitt has earned recognition from a wealth of credible construction associations and publications for a variety of projects, ranging from entertainment complexes to resorts to processing plants.

Winning awards is nothing new to Suitt. They began in the mid- to late-’90s, with assorted recognition for projects with Bayer, Tyson Foods, Mayfield Dairy Farms, Sea World and Unisource Worldwide Inc. Construction of Embassy Suites and Disney’s Discovery Cove in Orlando followed. Other acknowledgements include: Central Florida Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors gave Suitt the Eagle Award for the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center, as well as the 2002 Merit Award by the Georgia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.

But, by 2004, none was more recognizable for Suitt than the heavily themed dinner theater at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show at the Parton entertainment complex in Orlando. There, Suitt earned the Best of 2003 Merit Award from Southeast Construction Magazine. In not only acquiring such big-ticket work, but finishing strong enough to gain notoriety among its peers, Suitt firmly entrenched itself in one of the world’s most concentrated entertainment cities.

Suitt’s reputation, however, is not built solely on sales numbers and the amount of employees it has. A true titan in any industry spreads out it skills and expertise. Suitt has done that also, by being a founding member of the Design-Building Institute of America. Suitt sat on that board for six years, with Warren as the chairman in 1998. The DBIA has now grown into 1,000 plus memberships, with conventions seeing as many as 1,400 people in attendance and participation.

From a firm command in the numerous construction arenas where it has showcased its uncompromised ability, to a near rebuild of its own image and plans for the future, Suitt is poised to meet head-on its goal of being the most sought-after construction services partner in the 21st century.

“I’m excited about the future,” Warren said. “We have our company, we’ve had to re-trench and not necessarily start over, but when you go six months with very little sales, after 9/11, you find out what you’re made of.”


—Corporate Profile


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Advertorial copy previously published by Construction Communications 

Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc.

First impressions are lasting. Knowing this, building architects, designers and owners on the East Coast have looked to Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc. for more than 20 years, relying on their cutting-edge skill and talent when it comes to prefabricated exteriors.

And this isn’t just slapping some panels together and delivering it to a project’s site, either.  Modern and historical-replicate facades of eye-catching variety on both new construction and renovation ventures lends to Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc. a variety of prefab panels to complement any job. This resume of custom work is evident in jobs ranging from the stunning Court Street Regal Theater Complex in Brooklyn to the Tribeca Grand Hotel to the renovation of the Caesars Atlantic City Hotel and Casino. These examples are a mere blink of what Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc. has accomplished.

The ability to consistently land such huge work is a marriage of intensely detailed in-house production, uncanny design ability and the availability to architects of a wealth of façade options. Brick inlays, slate shingles, thin brick and limestone (which can be coupled with granite water table panels), composite metal, structural silicone, tile and EIFS shingle are the bulk of what this Bethlehem-Pa.-based company can do to a building’s exterior.

“Our essence is really about providing enclosures for buildings. We are about full-scale customized business,” says Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc. President Wayne W. Martin. “We have been in the panel system-design-fabrication-installation business arguably longer than anyone else around and one of the tenets of this business is the commitment to superior quality of products and services, as well as a commitment to customer satisfaction.

“We offer a wide variety of products and our capability is what get us the big work. “

Under parent company Macand & Boyer, EEWS began making greater investments in the critical areas of infrastructure, technology and computer-aided design, says EEWS’ Andrew Hudson, of the company’s mid-1990s approach to beefing up operations. They also added skilled engineers and sales personnel. It worked. EEWS did $40 million in 2003 and is shooting for the $100 million mark by 2007.

Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc.’s commitment to excellence is evident in the facades in puts on structures of all magnitudes — multi-level office and retail, research facilities, high-end hotels like for the likes of Hyatt, Courtyard, Marriott and Doubletree, to name but a few. However, Hudson adds that company’s in-house design and production system is what could very well be the straw that stirs the drink.

EEWS’ reputation of generating custom facades for seemingly any project begins in the shop, as does its ability to deliver materials on time and perfect seamless installation.

‘It was a breakthrough of sorts for us,” Hudson said. “We found a way to install windows in panels in the shop. There are numerous advantages to that. We lay the panels flat and it’s good for quality to control to make sure the brick and stone line up. It gives the opportunity for the cement and caulk to cure, for us to wash the panels and shrink-wrap them before they go on to the truck. This way, stone, metal and brick can all be incorporated into the wall.” All of this is done in a union shop, where Hudson says anywhere from 20 to 200 workers can get the job done. “That aides in our quality,” he says. This productive and successful operation is what enables EEWS to complete landmark jobs like the Lehigh Valley Hospital and, in 2004, the Buffalo Life Sciences Complex.

By doing this, EEWS guarantees its signature of unique and special design to each building’s exterior, an element Martin said is key to the company’s image. A certain unusualness and specialty approach to each installation, as well as a firm ability to grasp the complex and convert it to fluid installation, is what will continue to launch Eastern Exterior Wall Systems Inc. to the front of the competition.

“Our breadth of talent is what gives us the capability,” Martin says.



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The restaurant bar as charming as its food

By John Horn

It has earned a stellar reputation as a foodie’s paradise, with a menu devoted to upscale yet unpretentious comfort food. But the bar inside of Town Tavern in downtown Royal Oak is as charming and relaxing as the dining experience on the other side of the room.

Centered with a long, marble slate bar and slightly isolated from the rest of the dining room, Town Tavern’s bar is a testimony to proper drinking. However, if you’re looking for multiple taps and draft beer, you’ll notice something different here.

When the Italian restaurant Lepanto closed and Town Tavern opened in its space, owner Bill Roberts said they discovered something unusual.

“There was no draft beer system in there,” he says. “We felt wine was going to be our thing and because we have all bottled beer, it enables us to have a neat assortment of Michigan microbrews.”

Trust us, you’re not going to miss the kegs. Not when you have your pick of nearly 50 domestic, import and Michigan beers. The Michigan microbrew lineup is outstanding, with a strong representation of some of the best breweries in the state.  From Short’s to Michigan Brewing Company to Dragonmead, Founders, Bell’s, Axl, Arbor Brewing Co. and more, your whistle shall remain properly whetted at the Town Tavern.

Settle in for a cold Keewanaw Widow Maker Black Ale from the Upper Peninsula or maybe a Dark Horse Amber Ale from the fine folks over in Marshall, Mich. You win, and you support state business as well.

“We have a good dozen or so by the bottle,” Roberts says. “That’s an area that is growing, in the city and in the state. It’s great. It keeps the money local.”

Not in the mood for beer? How about any number of their custom martinis, or perhaps a Tavern Lemonade, made with Effen Black Cherry vodka, cranberry and Rose’s Lime? The single-malt Scotch menu will make you do a quiet flip. That lineup includes everything from Johnnie Walker Blue to MacCallan 12-year to the Glenlivet, both 12- and 21-year.

Town Tavern’s wine list offers more than 50 varieties, and includes everything from fresh, summer-y white wines to rich malbecs and pinot noirs.

A special bar menu also puts some excellent small plates in front of you, including jumbo lump crab cakes, short rib tacos, parmesan truffle fries and Buffalo shrimp, to name a few.

It is a classic, understated bar with a very relaxed crowd amid a couple of well-placed plasma TVs. Some bar patrons are waiting for a table; others are there simply for the rich drinking experience. Either way, you’ll never leave disappointed.

116 W. Fourth Street, Royal Oak



This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Your comfort zone just got wider

By John Horn

Ever walk in to a bar and get the stink eye from its patrons? Or maybe an unpleasant response (if any) from the bartender? Yeah, that’s not going to happen at the Belmont Bar in Hamtramck. Far from it, actually.

Rest assured that after a few minutes, you’re going to be as comfortable in that bar as if it were your own living room.

Co-owner Darren Grow said that entire phenomenon is by design. If the Belmont is anything, it’s comfortable and unpretentious.

“It starts with myself, my partner and the staff in that we are sociable and that we like to make people comfortable,” Grow says. “You can come in and it seems that regardless of what’s going on, after five minutes, you’re going to be pretty comfortable.”

And why wouldn’t you? It’s a neighborhood bar filled with regulars but isn’t exactly clique-y. Grow, co-owner Mark Hausner, and bartenders Chris Tait, Laura Gregory and Heatherley Howard make sure there’s no funny vibe in the Belmont. Instead, they focus on behaving like real people in a real bar, and not pull some fake bullshit trip on you.

Weekends at the Belmont showcase live music on Fridays and Saturdays, with a consistency of mainly rock and punk, in that order. Grow adds that they also see a little metal, a limited amount of hip-hop, folk, funk and even a bit of jazz. For the most part, though, expect a steady diet of rock, garage rock and other iterations of that timeless genre.

If the steady diet of amplified goodness isn’t enough for you, plenty of bar diversions abound at the Belmont, including displays of artwork for sale by local creatives, a pool table, video bowling machine and the always-exalted Mega-Touch.

Drink-wise, the Belmont is assuredly a shot-and-beer type of bar, emblematic of most blue-collar neighborhoods. Grow said that while they sell a lot of PBR and shots of Jameson and Jagermeister, arguably their signature drink is the very icon of most Hamtramck bars: blackberry brandy.

“It’s a staple,” Grow says. “If you walk into a Hamtramck bar and they don’t have that chilled and ready to go, something is wrong.”

You know what’s entirely right? Sunday nights at the Belmont, that’s what. Got the Sunday blues, do you? Dreading that Monday morning? Come, take your mind off all of it on Sunday nights as Tait rolls out his signature Bacon Bloody Marys. Yes, you read that correctly. Bacon.

Grow wouldn’t divulge the entire recipe, but he did mention that the bacon is fried up and blended in with certain seasonings.

“That has become a very big hit,” Grow says.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Forefathers of the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Party

By John Horn

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3/13) and St. Patrick’s Day itself (3/17) rolls around, if you’re not immersed in the reverie along Michigan Avenue, you better have plans to hit one the biggest, most legendary St. Patty’s Day parties around.

Arguably one of the most recognizable Irish bars in the Detroit, the Old Shillelagh set the bar — or, in this case, the short, heavy wooden club — years ago and continues to be one of the true gems on St. Patrick’s Day. And now, for the first time, that same epic party vibe that is the epicenter of every 3/17, can now be experienced on Parade Day as well.

“We are opening our tents this year for the first time on parade Sunday,” says manager Shellie Lewis. “We will be running our shuttle bus to the parade route, before and after the parade, all day and all night. ”

Party people are going to have their hands full (we’re pretty confident you can handle it) with the bevy of St. Pat’s Day/Parade day-related activity the Old Shillelagh is providing. First, the Saturday prior to 3/17 (that would be 3/12, the day before the parade on Michigan Ave.), the Old Shillelagh hosts a warmup party called St. Practice Day. You won’t sound like Allen Iverson eschewing this type of practice. No, you’ll be throwing down some Guinness in Greektown.

They roll out the tents and live entertainment starts upstairs at 2 p.m. on St. Practice Day. The tents open at 8 p.m., with live Irish music and DJs all night.

Hit reset the next for the 53rd annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where you can party in the Shillelagh’s tent all Sunday.

And after that, four days later, the biggest Irish holiday of them all gets down on 3/17. The Shillelagh’s St. Pat’s party leaves guests wanting for nothing. And Shellie sets everything clear right up front about this legendary party.

“There is no green beer,” she says. “Guinness, car bombs, Smithwyck’s, Harp and lots of Jameson,” she says, reeling off the official breakfast of party people everywhere.

And speaking of breakfast, the Old Shillelagh serves it all morning on 3/17. Keep yourself nourished throughout the rest of the day (oh, there’s really no reason to leave) with their authentic corned beef sandwiches and juicy cheeseburgers.

They open at 7 a.m. and get full pretty quickly. The tents open at 8 a.m. And you should probably know something about those tents. The Old Shillelagh was the first Detroit bar to implement the outdoor tent for St. Patrick’s Day, doing so 20 years ago. They did it for five years before anyone else followed suit.

And from within those tents, you’ll hear the fantastic Irish music of Billy Dixon, as well as other traditional music and some top 40 stuff mixed in.

Approximately 5,000-6,000 people come through the Old Shillelagh’s door on 3/17, and you can expect a hearty, fun crowd on the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day as well, including parade day.

That’s a lot of great party-hosting. For Shellie, though her take on it all is rooted in such sublime simplicity, it’s nearly poetic.

“We just throw parties,” she says. “That’s what we do; huge parties in our bar.”

And for that, you should thank them.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

The definitive neighborhood bar

By John Horn

If you like snotty, clique-y, unfriendly bar crowds and the pretentious nonsense that comes with them, then you’ll probably hate the Corktown Tavern.

Now that we’ve established that you’re (somewhat) well-adjusted and prefer your bar crowds to be composed of real, like-minded individuals with the same agenda (catch a buzz; have a good time), then you probably already know about Corktown Tavern. And if you don’t, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with one of the true Detroit neighborhood bars in the city.

“It’s a loose, fun atmosphere,” says Owner Tony Maisano. “Good music, good drinks and good people.” Corktown operates, literally, on two levels. Downstairs, you have the long bar and a smattering of TVs with people hanging out, drinking, comiserating and generally enjoying bar-inspired mirth. The upper level is home to live music, generally Thursdays through Saturdays, and showcases everyone from local bands to national acts. Pick one level or the other; or do both.

“The neat thing about our place is that it has two floors,” Maisano says. “Even if you want to come and have a drink, there is no cover, ever. You pay the cover upstairs. It’s almost a private thing up there.”

That private thing upstairs will usually run you no more than $5 and will afford to you the opportunity to see anyone from Eddie Spaghetti and/or Hugh Cornwell of the Supersuckers to Panama, a Cleveland-based Van Halen tribute band.

“One of the other benefits is that we keep it fair with the bands in that they keep 100 percent of the door,” Maisano says. “We never take out for sound guys and other BS like that. My motto is: ‘You’re the music, you brought the people, you make that money. I’m in the business of selling booze, I keep that money.'”

It must be working, because Corktown Tavern has to it a no-nonsense, relaxed environment. Ownership encourages — and patrons oblige — a fun, upbeat atmosphere. A happy hour typically runs from 8 p.m.- 9 p.m., before bands start to play. There is always some sort of $2 domestic beer special, as well as a shot/drink special, which is usually the call of the bartender working that night.

In addition to live music upstairs toward the end of the week and into the weekend, Scotty from the Amino Acids DJs every Monday night.

Want to support something local? Throw a couple of bucks and couple of hours into helping sustain the unpretentious fun at Corktown Tavern.



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