Some projects bring a sense of personal achievement that goes beyond the satisfaction of a job well done. Providing sheet metal elements for the new Detroit Red Wings stadium, now Little Caesar’s Arena, was just such a project for Glenn Parvin, president of SMACNA member Custom Architectural Sheet Metal Specialists (CASS) in Detroit, and for members of Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 80 who worked on the job.
The project was developed by the Ilitch family. Mike Ilitch founded Little Caesar’s pizza in the 1950s, then bought the Red Wings in 1983 and rebuilt a Stanley Cup champion team—and is now helping rebuild the city of Detroit.
“The organization wanted the arena to be built by the city for the city,” Parvin said. Parvin, who is a longtime Red Wings season ticket holder added, “the project mandated that 51 percent of the workforce be city residents and 30 percent of the businesses have Detroit headquarters. That made it ideal for CASS, which is a ‘100-percent original’ Detroit-based business. We brought the benefit of local presence and being 10 minutes away from the site.”
CASS installed the arena’s exterior jewel-skin work—a custom-sized, silver-colored articulated dimensional aluminum panel system. CASS also furnished and installed the underlayment substrate wall system on the building’s exterior: an insulated foam wall panel system with a metal skin on the front and back. It was installed over radius structural tube steel that created the substrate and air barrier system. “The jewel skin was the riskiest and hardest part of the job,” Parvin said.
The exterior jewel-skin wall also serves as a massive 600-foot-high wraparound video wall, which, according to the CASS website, “is one of the arena’s state-of-the-art exterior attractions and one of the largest of its kind anywhere.”
Being part of it the project “was one of the proudest moments for us. Of all the jobs coming up, it was our target to ‘play in the arena,” Parvin said.
CASS partnered as a second-tier subcontractor with one of the largest sheet metal companies in the U.S., which had the contract for the jewel-skin enclosure package and the underbody “whalebone” steel tubular structure. “It was a unique situation because we had to be in the game, bidding the job with our competitor,” he said. CASS’s piece of the skin package generated close to $2 million in revenue for the firm.
“We came into the job with one thing in mind, knowing we would be working as a second-tier subcontractor: We knew our A-game would be necessary to make it a success. We’re very proud that our approach worked,” Parvin said.
CASS entered the site in October 2016 and remained until the last piece of metal went above the tile on opening day in October 2017.
Challenges included a congested worksite (1,200–1,300 workers), complicated access, lots of overtime, and a firm completion date with “huge liquidated damages consequences” for missing that date.
The overall project included office and retail buildings involving more than $6 million in sheet metal and siding applications. CASS also fabricated and installed pre-finished/post-painted aluminum panels, copings, trims, and flashing.
CASS had 10 to 12 workers onsite, and in the final seven weeks had up to 14 workers onsite and five in the shop working seven days a week.
The arena project was “a big deal for me personally,” Parvin said. “Detroit is the city hit the worst by the recession. This new (partnership) method of doing business was a unique way to reward businesses for staying in Detroit. This project set a very high mark of pride for me and our entire organization. It made us proud to ‘be Detroit!’”
That pride was visible on employee safety shirts, emblazoned with “Arena Team 2017-Detroit-original.” Nowadays, Parvin gets an extra kick from the exterior painted signage, which proclaims the Ilitch family as a “Detroit original since the 1950s.” “Maybe someone liked the slogan on our safety shirts!”
Glenn Parvin is on SMACNA Detroit’s Board of Directors and served as chair of SMACNA National’s Architectural Sheet Metal Contractors Council Steering Committee. He has been in business for 28 years as a custom architectural sheet metal contractor. To view a video of the arena’s construction, visit Custom Architectural Sheet Metal Specialists.