The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 07, 2014

Hockey arena construction attracts Detroit residents

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT – “One District. Many opportunities.” That was the theme placed on the “Detroit Resident Career Opportunity Expo” held Oct. 28 at Cobo Center.

The “District” refers to the new $650 million hockey arena/neighborhood slated to be built in an area bordered by Woodward Avenue to the east, Charlotte Street to the north, Grand River to the west and Grand Circus Park to the south. More than a hockey arena, the district will include entertainment, residential, retail and offices.

The “opportunities” refer to jobs: thousands of construction and related jobs, and as many as 1,100 permanent positions.

With nearly all of the building trades local unions in attendance sponsoring their own booths among other organizations, the expo offered Detroit residents an opportunity to learn more about the trades and the requirements to become an apprentice, and then the qualifications needed to become a journeyman.

“We’ve been very busy, and we can use the people,” said Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 2 Business Rep. Tim Ochalek, manning the union’s booth. Local 2, currently with full employment, has been recruiting potential apprentices. “The day is only half over, and we’ve probably handed out 500 flyers and talked to a lot of people. We’ve been asked if they can work on the hockey stadium, and I tell them, that yes, it’s a possibility.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held Sept. 25 at the site of the new 20,000-seat arena. The arena and the 45-block entertainment district are scheduled to be complete in time for the 2017 NHL season. Barton Malow Co., Detroit-based White Construction and Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction Group have been jointly hired to manage construction of the arena.

“Olympia Development has said from the beginning, ‘we want Detroiters to build The District,’” said Douglass Diggs of Heritage Development Services, the organization ensuring contractors meet Olympia’s aggressive goal that 51 percent of the workforce be residents of Detroit.

Said Pamela Moore, president and CEO of Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, an Expo partner: “The scope of this project will make a real difference in a city that’s suffered from unemployment and underemployment. It is imperative that we hire Detroiters. In order to build Detroit, we must build Detroiters.”

Some trades used the expo as part of a current apprenticeship recruitment effort, others as chance to get information out about their trade. “We’ve got the work,” said Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 apprentices instructor Dennis Marentette. “We don’t take new people into the program unless we have a job for them so there is no false hope.”

At the Iron Workers Local 25 booth, Business Agent Dennis Aguirre said Local 25 is currently taking apprenticeship applications, but visitors at the expo looked at photos of what iron workers do and that proved a bit daunting for some. “Iron work isn’t for everyone,” Aguirre said. “I’ve had people come up and ask if they have to work up in the iron, and I tell them, ‘sometimes.’ They just walk away and you tell them, ‘have a good day!’ “