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Retail Tilt-Up

By: Ed Sauter

In the arena of retail construction, time and creativity are equally paramount. Failure to meet a proposed deadline simply is not an option. A delay in a store opening may result in missing a busy shopping season or the launch of a new product line. In addition, many retail construction contracts have stiff penalty clauses for missed deadlines that can be costly to both the general contractor and the developer. But the retail industry is also extremely conscious of its image. Stores must be modern and support the company’s corporate identity. In recent years, site-cast Tilt- Up has become a method of choice for the retail industry because of its proven ability to deliver on both fronts. Tilt-Up not only affords owners a fast-track construction schedule, but also a variety of architectural options and rich aesthetic appeal.

“Getting people into a store quickly and for less money so profits can be realized more easily — that’s the target for today’s retailer,” explains Jim Baty, technical director of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA). “The ability of Tilt-Up to dramatically reduce construction time and to do so on reduced budgets ultimately delivers the type of project that retailers seek the most. In addition, Tilt-Up has the potential to deliver an iconic final product in virtually every project.”

The Tilt-Up process affords retail owners several important attributes that help reduce schedule time. In the Tilt-Up construction process, a high quality floor is often used for the casting surface, which means that the retailer receives the benefit of an exceptional floor for the operation of the facility. In addition, this floor is ready for a variety of treatments or services.

Floor mix designs have different considerations and flatness is the most important element. Glenn Doncaster of Citadel Contractors in Apex, N.C. notes that a 3000psi or 3500psi mix design with a water-to-cement ratio of .5 or below and a 4-inch to 5-inch slump is desirable, because it helps reduce shrinking and provides enough paste for good finishing operations. “For floors that will have coverings (i.e, carpet, tile, etc.), we use 4/4/4/4 wire in the top third with no saw cuts. The floor should be very flat with no curl except at the edges,” said Doncaster. “Special attention must be paid to retail tenants’ prototypical requirements, because some retail floors use concrete as the finished product and require specific construction techniques.”

According to Doncaster, during the initial phases of retail construction, panel fabrication may get a three- to four-week head start before erection. “However, for the majority of the project, panel erection and fabrication occur simultaneously, said Doncaster. “Beam testing for panels is highly recommended when cycle time is down to four days or less.” For a multi-tenant site, most panels are lifted from the exterior using a crawler crane, which allows for reuse of the casting beds and surfaces.

Doncaster explains that mix designs for Tilt-Up panels typically have a water-to-cement ratio of .5 or below. “Tilt-Up panels use a high range water reducer to achieve an 8-inch slump, which creates a clean, crisp and durable panel face. This is important for retail facilities that desire an aesthetically pleasing building and can show off any architectural features.” Panel thickness is typically engineered due to the very large openings required in retail projects. “Panel thickness can range from 8 inches to 16 inches,” said Doncaster.

While traditional warehouse-style Tilt-Up construction has long been favored by big-box retailers, smaller Tilt-Up structures with more distinctive architectural features are beginning to gain ground in lifestyle shopping centers, which, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), are one of the fastest-growing trends in the retail industry.

“When it comes to lifestyle malls, the features are the main characteristic,” Baty says. “Creating a village atmosphere is a key to the lifestyle mall, where facades are greatly varied and the scale of the project at the streetscape is broken down to a more personable level. Achieving this on a schedule that facilitates the interest of retailer is virtually limited to Tilt-Up as a delivery method.”

Tilt-Up’s ability to provide architectural flexibility on a tight schedule was certainly a boon to the developers of the Winter Garden Village retail center in Winter Park, Fla., which received a TCA Achievement Award in 2009. With more than half a million square feet of retail space scheduled to be built in only a 10-month period, the developers decided to scrap the original plans for concrete masonry construction in favor of Tilt-Up to accommodate the aggressive schedule. To replicate the proposed masonry appearance, thin brick was applied using a molded formliner, a solution that also cut costs from the project’s bottom line. Baty notes that “thin brick is less expensive than real brick in most instances.” To get around site limitations — a common challenge on lifestyle center Tilt-Up projects — the Tilt-Up contractor reused the casting beds several times.

Stack casting, in which multiple panels are cast on top of one another on a single casting bed, also is a popular way to deal with site limitations while maximizing schedule efficiency on retail projects. This casting method was used by contractors at Metropolitan at Midtown, a high-end lifestyle center in a revitalized area of downtown Charlotte, N.C., who not only had to accommodate a fast-track construction schedule, but also had to work around concurrent construction on the site. The project, another TCA Award winner, was divided into two phases; the panels for the Target and Home Depot stores were stack-cast during the first phase of the project, and panels for Marshall’s, Best Buy and Staples were stack-cast during Phase II. Despite the schedule and accessibility constraints, the project’s designers were still able to imbue the shopping center with an upscale look (which was not only desired by the developer but also mandated by city guidelines) by integrating thin-brick veneers, linear reveals, aluminum sunshades, decorative concrete sidewalks and large storefront windows.

Because of its versatility, Tilt-Up has the ability to serve as the primary construction method not just for retail-only centers, but also for another growing trend — mixed-use developments that blend stores with residential and office space. This was the challenge presented by the award-winning Marketplace at Lake Boone, a mixed-use retail, restaurant and office development located less than a mile from the busy Rex Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. Challenging occupancy timeframes meant that detailed project scheduling and staging of multiple buildings were necessary to meet the critical dates for both the beginning of tenant up-fits and the completion of the surrounding site work. The project featured a range of unique design elements, including multi-level balconies, numerous arched openings, cupolas and detailed fenestration. EIFS ornamentation, a popular architectural treatment for Tilt-Up structures, was applied to cornices, while spandrel glass, Tilt-Up columns, curved panels and metal treatments were used throughout the structures to further boost architectural interest.

In addition to slashing construction times and budgets while opening up a wealth of architectural possibilities, Tilt-Up offers other features that are important to today’s retailers. “Going green” is moving to the top of many retailers’ priority lists — a 2008 study by the National Marketing Institute found that 19 percent of North American consumers embrace a healthy, sustainable lifestyle and retailers are seeking to reach out to this growing market segment by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability. “Site-cast Tilt-Up is one of the greenest building materials out there, due to its energy performance and local material utilization,” explains Baty. In addition to the durability and energy-retention properties that make the concrete itself sustainable, Tilt-Up buildings can be easily integrated with other energy-saving features. According to Baty, Tilt-Up provides a durable energy-efficient shell, which helps manage the large temperature swings that can occur with high volume traffic that is common in retail outlets.

Due to its origins as the construction method of choice for boxy warehouses, Tilt-Up has long had a reputation as only being able to support large, simple, windowless structures. However, the range of creative retail projects being built today proves that this is no longer the case. And even with the myriad specialized architectural treatments applied to today’s structures, Tilt-Up still manages to retain its time- and cost-effectiveness. “Tilt-Up, no matter what is perceived, is not a system that requires repetition,” Baty explains. “Often, the number of panel size combinations must be minimized to reduce the changes to the rigging, but this is merely to maximize the economic benefits Tilt- Up can provide. Customizing panels does not overly burden the project from a cost or time perspective.”

As more and more retail Tilt-Up projects appear around the country, the construction method’s ability to cater to the retail industry’s demand for creative structures with a quick turnaround will only continue to gain momentum. “By exploring the ways the current state-of-the-art Tilt-Up construction is delivered under schedule and under budget,” Baty says, “the retail market can be better informed and better prepared to make the decision earlier to select Tilt-Up.”

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.