Kiewit: Leading the Way in a Long Line of Lasting Legacies Since 1884
WORDS: Sean O’Keefe
Brothers Peter and Andrew Kiewit grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, as the children of a hard-working Dutch immigrant and small businessman, John Kiewit. As teenagers they worked in their father’s brickyard and learned masonry as a trade, eventually deciding to start Kiewit Brothers Masonry Contractors in 1884. As the close of the century approached, the firm began taking on sizable commissions, including the masonry of the seven-story Lincoln Hotel and leading construction on the Bekins warehouse as a general contractor in 1900. The partnership between the two brothers lasted some 20 years before they agreed to dissolve it in 1904.
The foundation for success had been firmly established though, and the company lived on under the leadership of Peter Kiewit and his sons. Namesake and youngest son, Peter, came aboard in 1919 and was at the helm by 1924, where he stayed until his death in 1979. This is the Peter Kiewit who went on to build one of the largest construction companies in the world, growing the small, local company from its Nebraska roots in masonry to leading large-scale projects in transportation, infrastructure, mining, oil and gas, power and wastewater. Today, Kiewit is globally recognized as a construction, mining and engineering powerhouse; a firm whose work and methodologies define the leading edge of innovation across most large-project market sectors.
“Every day is filled with new challenges and opportunities to consider ways to do things better,” says Chris Kelner, national director of preconstruction for Kiewit’s building group. Like many before him, Kelner’s career has followed Kiewit’s familiar tradition of training and promoting from within. He has been with Kiewit for 22 years. Starting as a project engineer, he came up through the ranks as a superintendent, project manager, senior project manager and project executive. In his current role, Kelner is responsible for leading vertical building pursuits in support of project acquisition across North America. Though Kiewit’s success as an infrastructure builder in heavy highway, water/wastewater, rail and transportation may seem a more common calling card today, Kelner and his team take pride in delivering challenging projects across many commercial segments.
“Vertical building is in our DNA,” says Kelner of the commissions his team pursues from seven U.S. offices stretching geographically from Washington, D.C., to Hawaii and Anchorage to Texas. “We’re working in all major markets from health care to government, energetic mixed-use infills and corporate campus creation on greenfield sites. The commonality is often the need for processes that can manage a high degree of risk and complexity, and the owner’s focus on excellence in execution.”
Locally, Kiewit has been a leading player in Denver’s reconfiguration boom, famously delivering the Union Station Transit Improvement Project in 2014. The 19.5-acre redevelopment reimagined a 19th-century relic as a regional multimodal catalyst that has shifted Denver’s epicenter from Civic Center Park to the other end of the 16th Street Mall. Delivered as a design-build project, the redevelopment significantly improved the public realm through a series of interconnected destination plazas tying the site together. A massive effort, part of the challenge was coordinating the combined interests of Regional Transportation District, Colorado Department of Transportation, city and county of Denver, and the Denver Regional Council of Governments harmoniously within the project.
“Kiewit is client-focused and process-driven,” says Kelner of the firm’s fundamental approach to preplanning work down to the finest detail to eliminate risk, maximize safety, and enhance finished quality. In today’s hyperconnected “workmosphere,” clients often are shoulder-to-shoulder with builders and designers throughout the delivery process, compelling contractors and consultants to bring their A-game to every engagement.
“Simply being able to build the work is no longer sufficient,” he continues. “Communications skills, understanding team dynamics, data-driven determinations, facilitating collaboration, and having clients teach us about their business and needs is what enables us to deliver win-win solutions and build lasting relationships.”
Situationally constricted, urban infill tied to transit where the complexities of infrastructure and reuse converge seem to be a strong suit that illuminates Kiewit’s multifaceted expertise. With Denver’s mass transit needs consolidated at Union Station, Continuum Partners engaged Kiewit as construction manager/general contractor to deliver the rethink of the former RTD Market Street Station bus terminal, a few blocks up the 16th Street Mall.
Coined Market Station, the redevelopment plan for the bus terminal and street-level plaza prominently includes 95,000 square feet of Class A office space, 82,000 sf of street grade retail, a 225-unit residential community and 320 mechanically stacked parking spaces with valet service. The design takes root in a thoughtful integration of massing, material textures and fenestration taking cues from the surrounding historic and commercial contexts. The centerpiece of the site, which is coming to market in the fall, will be an interstitial paseo linking multiple points of public access through the vibrant retail hub.
Kiewit was also a key figure in the redevelopment of the former University of Colorado Health Sciences Center site at East Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver. Another Continuum Partners’ project, 9+CO spans 26 acres spread over five city blocks where Kiewit completed a combined 585,000 sf of office, retail and entertainment on blocks 2, 4 and 5 in 2018. The redevelopment brings long-awaited reactivation to a walkable neighborhood that has been largely dormant since UCHSC’s departure in 2007.
“Every time we complete a building it is an event, but the journey of getting there is just as important and that’s about people and process,” continues Kelner. “We are very committed to the success of our people and spend a lot of time and effort on professional development and training opportunities. We have a training university in Omaha and standardized procures and controls for everything we do.” Beginning and ending with its “Nobody Gets Hurt” safety philosophy, over generations of work Kiewit has continually tested, measured, refined and documented processes for every aspect of engineering, building, and starting up the work they build. Looking forward, Kelner is excited about Kiewit’s future in Colorado.
“We will work toward completing Phase I of our new regional headquarters campus in Lone Tree for an anticipated opening in summer 2021,” shares Kelner. Showcasing the full range of abilities of Kiewit Corp., the firm is designing, developing and delivering a next-level corporate campus initiated by a five-story, 250,000-sf smart building accompanied by a 1,000-stall parking structure. Phase II anticipates another 150,000-sf office building with space onsite for additional growth in the future.
Located directly adjacent to the Sky Ridge Light Rail Station, Kiewit employees will soon take advantage of RidgeGate’s multimodal connectivity and burgeoning live, work, play lifestyle. Understanding that culture drives behavior, Kiewit and many other top-tier market leaders recognize why Colorado continues to attract and retain an exceptional workforce.
“Colorado is awesome; the people are very educated, very enlightened and very entrepreneurial in many different markets,” he says of workforce positives. “Consolidating roughly 900 Kiewit employees from several dispersed offices into a dynamic 21st century campus attached to a walkable district will help us continue to attract the best-of-the-best so we can continue to build the best-of-the-best.”
Published in the June 2020 issue of Building Dialogue.