Like a lot of people, Mike Harms was thrilled last year when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Harms had a bit of a different reason to cheer the Cubs ending its 108-year championship drought, though.
Before returning to Denver, almost exactly a year go, Harms had played a key role in the $575 million renovation of Wrigley Field, scheduled to be completed next year.
“Neat stuff,” said Harms, who in February 2016 was named vice president and district manager for PCL Construction.
His old friend Tim Romani lured Harms, 54, from Denver to join Romani’s Chicago-based ICON Venue Group in 2013.
Romani is a well-respected and well-liked construction executive who helped build the Pepsi Center and the Sports Authority at Mile High, among other Denver iconic structures.
“Tim and I had worked on the Pepsi Center at the same time,” Harms said.
“I had known him since 1995 and he convinced me to join him in Chicago,” Harms said.
But Harms never left Denver.
“I continued to live in Denver and flew back and forth,” between the Mile High and Windy City.
“That is one of the reasons I wanted to come back. In 2015, I was on a plane 47 of 52 weeks.”
During his 30-year-plus career, Harms estimated he has a hand in constructing $3 billion to $5 billion in projects.
In addition to Wrigley Field, he helped build the new Minnesota Vikings Stadium and the new football stadium at Colorado State University, scheduled to open later this year.
In addition, he played a role in the construction of Concourse A at the Denver International Airport, as well as one of the first buildings to open at DIA.
Growing up in Nebraska, Harms always like to build things.
“My dad was in the financial business,” he said.
“He was a CFO and in the accounting field and was not a hand-on-guy. But my brother and I just naturally always liked to construct stuff.”
Harms said he “liked the satisfaction of seeing the progress and at the end being able to see a finished building that you can see and touch.”
He said he still feels the same way, all of these years later, even though the projects he tackles now are much larger than the pre-fabricated buildings he built on Nebraska farms during summer breaks when he was in high school.
“I remember working on a farm in rural Nebraska and after a 16-hour day of pouring concrete and putting up a building, the owner came out with a 12-pack of warm beer. He ran a hose over it to cool it, but the beer was still about 90 degrees,” when they quenched their thirst.
In the mid-1980s, his first job as a project engineer in Denver was to build the Loews Giorgio Hotel near South Colorado Boulevard in Glendale.
That was quickly followed by the construction of the Scanticon Hotel, which is now called the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center.
He also did a lot of work on the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and three buildings at DIA, including the $111 million FAA Tracon air traffic control building, which he said was the first “vertical construction” at the new airport.
“I remember driving on 56th Avenue that was just one lane for six miles and I had to sleep in our construction trailer one night during a snowstorm,” Harms said
“There was nothing out there,” he noted.
The company he joined, PCL, is one of the 10 biggest construction companies in the U.S.
Denver is an important city for PCL, which traces its history to 1906, when Ernest Poole started a construction company in Saskatchewan, Canada.
In 1975, Poole entered the U.S. market when it came to Denver.
Denver remains the U.S. headquarters for PCL.
In one of his most recent projects, Harms recently started construction of the $295 million expansion of the Monarch Hotel and Casino in Black Hawk.
“We just imploded the parking garage,” Harms said. “That was my first implosion. It was pretty cool.”
PCL also is finishing up a $90 million condo development in Vail and an $80 million one in Aspen.
“In the future, I think we could end up doing a lot of aviation work at the airport and also a lot of hospitality work, both in the Denver area and in the mountains,” Harms said.
PCL also has been talking to developers about a number of big apartment buildings.
“It is a question mark about how much longer the building boom in apartments can be sustained, because lenders are becoming less willing to finance them,” Harms said.
“But we targeting four or five different for-sale condo projects,” he said.
Some developers think the demand of condos is strong enough to justify the cost of expensive insurance premiums, even if the legislature does not reform construction defect laws this year, he said.
There also will be the opportunity to build schools, as a number of school districts last year approved bond issues to pay for new schools, he noted.
On a macro level, he said if President Donald Trump can convince Congress to go along with his massive infrastructure improvement plans, it will be good for his industry.
“I don’t want to say infrastructure has been neglected, but it hasn’t been a focus, and now I think we will be finding a money to finally start tackling some of these projects,” he said.
Even without federal infrastructure funding, he thinks the Denver-area will continue to need new buildings.
“We are getting such a flurry of people here, something like 10,000 a month, that will mean we will need more housing, which will mean we will need more offices, warehouses and retail.”
He expects to spend the rest of his career in Denver.
“As best as one can look at the crystal ball today, that is my plan,” Harms said.
“You know, I’ve lived in Florida and Southern California, in addition to working in the Midwest, but I always come back to Denver.”
If you scratch the surface of just about any deal, there is a story behind it. The Rebchook Real Estate Corner will look at the what and who that makes the Colorado commercial real estate industry spin every Tuesday and Thursday online at CREJ.com. The people behind-the-deals, are passionate about what they do, whether they focus on offices, apartments, industrial, retail, land or lending. They also are passionate about their clients. Given the cyclical nature of commercial real estate, those who prosper in it have plenty of stories to tell. I hope to share them with you.
This column will include news stories, in depth looks at deals, profiles, Q&As and pieces on the latest trends. Contact John with story tips at [email protected] or 303-945-6865.