Forest City Stapleton: Air Port

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Construction workers, architects and others working on the $4 billion redevelopment of the former Denver airport needed a better way to communicate. A wireless network made the difference.

Construction trucks, heavy equipment and hardhat workers have replaced the sound of jet engines in the dusty, noisy and busy confines of what once was Stapleton International Airport. That makes Hank Baker feel right at home.

Baker is the ramrod on the biggest and most closely watched urban "infill" project in the U.S. He's senior vice president of Forest City Stapleton Inc., a division of nationwide developer Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland. He's transforming these 4,700 acres of prime land near Denver's center into homes, shops and offices, relying heavily on a tool he can't even see.

That instrument, a wireless network, was not originally part of the project. But it now keeps construction moving and costs down. It was an innovation born of simple observation, inspired in part by the utility and ease of deployment, exhibited by wireless computer use in such places as Starbucks coffee shops.

For less than $50,000 in one-time costs, Baker got complete coverage of all construction trailers and sites on the massive urban development. He could kiss good-bye the costs of laying communication cables between trailers for data and phone services. Also disappearing would be the $30,000 or so he had spent early on for consultants to help him figure out how to keep the communications lines open as work crews continually shifted through the project site.

The real payoff? The development would have a new selling point to offer prospective residents and businesses, one that would fit in with the original goal of "future-proofing" the Stapleton facilities for advances in technology. Forest City, Baker says, would get the chance to "to beta test the concept of wireless connections throughout this development."

Stapleton airport closed in 1995; redevelopment of the property began two years ago. The $4-billion project quickly found itself in the national spotlight, as other builders watched how a large tract of land near a city's core could be most effectively reused. The results could be applied to other cities with aging airports, decommissioned military bases or other large urban areas in need of an overhaul.

This also was a showcase for publicly traded Forest City Enterprises, as well as participating architects, engineers, urban planners, contractors, and technologists. Denver elected officials also were keeping a close eye, after having awarded Forest City the development franchise. Forest City would pay $79.4 million for the land and a $15,000-an-acre fee to develop parks and open spaces. Shareholders would only see profits if Forest City operated efficiently.

Blood pressures started rising in 2002; expenses and delays mounted as Qwest Communications struggled to lay cables to the construction trailers, which act as mobile offices for builders. The lines allow managers to place voice calls and swap data, as they plan and execute the daily buildout.

"We began to ask ourselves, 'How do you skin this cat with all this tremendous cost?' " says Don Knasel, chief executive of Boulder-based PD Active, a supplier of software that manages large work forces.

This article was originally published on 2003-11-01
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