Rental offers winning hand to casino builders

Ask Jim Smith, project superintendent for W. G. Yates & Sons Construction, Philadelphia, Mississippi, what percentage of his equipment is rented on the Isle of Capri casino job in Bossier City, Louisiana, and he’ll tell you 100 percent. The reasons are straightforward: “Although we do have our own crew here,” Smith says, “we’re primarily serving as construction managers on this design-build project, so we don’t have a lot of equipment needs. And even though Yates has a lot of equipment in its own fleet, our company has so many jobs going on right now that it’s pretty much allocated. Plus if we had our own equipment here, we’d likely have someone with the company service it, and it makes more sense to me to deal with someone local for that.”

Yates is using two to three local rental providers, including the Shreveport, Louisiana, branch of Rental Service Corporation. The construction firm is renting a variety of equipment for the job, including telescopic handlers, backhoes, scissor lifts and several pieces of small equipment such as generators and welders.

Some rentals have come about because the job involves expanding an existing casino hotel that is continuing full swing throughout construction. “We’re redoing a lot of the roads and entrances,” Smith says, which meant the contractor had to make sure people could get to the existing facility. Since guests have to literally drive through the jobsite and construction took out many of the existing entrance lights, Yates provided temporary lighting in the form of rented light towers.

While Smith handles what equipment will be rented on site, rental administration is handled through Yate’s branch office in Biloxi, Mississippi. All rentals are processed through a purchase order system.

With eight trades working on the job employed by various subcontractors, Yate’s own crews are busy doing a variety of earthmoving, low-rise concrete and steel erection jobs.

The concrete subcontractor on the job, Baker Concrete Construction, Oxford, Ohio, is currently renting about 75 percent of its jobsite equipment, according to Steve Gentry, superintendent. “Because we travel all over the United States it’s much more cost efficient for us to rent than ship our equipment from job to job,” he says.

Typical rental equipment includes telescopic forklifts, air compressors, generators, backhoes and excavators. Baker’s own equipment on the project – rented through their sister company Beam Equipment, Monroe, Ohio – includes such concrete-specific equipment as trowel machines and concrete buckets. “We typically do not own our own backhoes and telescopic forklifts,” Gentry says.

Baker sometimes takes advantage of rental purchase options, especially if they’re on a job for an extended period. “It depends on how long we’re there,” Gentry says. If a machine is bought, it’s put into the Beam Equipment inventory.

Gentry admits keeping track of what’s still on rent on the job can pose difficulties. “We use a rental log,” he says, “and I can look at it to see if the equipment is still out on the job.”

For this project, Baker is renting telescopic handlers to pick up formwork, air compressors to power jack hammers and blow off decks and generators to power tools. The company finished its portion of the job at the end of June, which included placing and finishing 7,400 cubic yards of concrete, building formwork and doing some excavation for the footings. The finished hotel tower will have 12 15,500-square-foot floors. Baker has been doing one floor a week, working every Friday starting at 2 a.m. to place and finish each deck.

“It’s been a joy dealing with both companies on this job,” says Tony Harrington, with Shreveport’s RSC branch. “This is such a well-planned job that we know well in advance what they’re going to need.”

The job, with a project cost of around $45 million, includes a hotel tower with 265 rooms, a Kitt’s Kitchen restaurant, a new pool and deck and a 12,000-square-foot convention/entertainment center. The project started in October, 2002, and is on schedule to beat its 18-month construction plan by two months, Smith says. “We’re progressing well,” he comments.

The Bossier City job is one of three expansions the Isle of Capri Casinos is funding with $135 million in cash. In addition to its Louisiana expansion, the company is also upgrading and adding to its casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Marquette, Iowa, all in an effort to offer more resort-oriented properties.

The company owns and operates 15 casinos at 14 locations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Nevada.