Focus Feature: Joe Vartanian

21 July 2020
Joe Vartanian

As part of our continued Focus Feature series, we recently sat down with Senior Project Manager, Joe Vartanian. His over 18 years of industry experience involved time as an estimator, project manager and owner's rep and included work on ground-up construction, interior build-outs and value-add. Joe leads the construction team for at the 167 North Green project, Focus' largest office building to date and below he shares a few of his biggest takeaways from his time in the construction industry.

What is your role at Focus?

As a Senior Project Manager for Focus Construction, I lead my team in all aspects of the construction process—conceptual design, bidding, value engineering, awarding subcontracts, coordination, site planning, logistics, and supervision of all construction work. We strive to not only complete all our projects on time and within budget, but to also make a positive impact on the surrounding communities in which our projects are located. As an integrated developer and general contractor, all of Focus’ construction staff work on third-party jobs as well as Focus’ own development projects. This integration leads to an ownership mentality that does not switch off from one project to the other and we believe that overlap benefits our third-party clients directly.

You’re the lead Project Manager on one of Focus’ largest projects ever, 167 N Green Street, what makes this project unique? What type of innovative approaches have you taken during construction in order to build value at 167 Green?

’re>167 N Green is unique not only because of its size (750,000 GSF), but because of the extensive detail and thought that went into the design and operation of the building.

Each typical office floor will provide an acre of office space for new tenants. The building features a Town Hall meeting venue which doubles as a basketball/volleyball court and located on the 17th floor, offers expansive views of Chicago. “The Mews” is an open pedestrian walkway through the center of the building with retail space, gold mirror-finish panel ceilings and a cantilevered glass fin lobby glass system that is the tallest of its kind in North America.

A state of the art water-cooled VRF system is being utilized to provide heating and cooling to the building which will allow for more control of the system for future tenants as well as energy savings as compared to typical forced air systems used in office buildings in Chicago. The VRF system also takes up less space than a conventional forced air system which allows for high ceilings with lower floor to floor structure. By using the innovative technology, our team was able to provide substantial cost savings for the project.

All of these features make 167 N Green the first of its kind in many ways, but also makes construction uniquely challenging. Our integrated process allows my construction team to simply walk across the office to collaborate with the design and development team saving time and simplifying problem solving.

Tell me about the most memorable project you’ve worked on and why its memorable to you?

The Soul City Church project has stuck with me. The project involved renovating the existing space in the West Loop while constructing a new addition, all while the church continued to operate out of the space. We had a tight budget and started with a negative contingency which I had never encountered before. Despite these challenges we completed the work on time and within budget. After completion, I attended a service during their grand opening. It allowed me to see how appreciative the church was to all the hard work that Focus and our trade partners devoted to building their new “home”. This example showcases one of the most important aspects of our construction mentality, we believe that our work should enhance the communities to which they belong. Taking into account the existing context and then helping to build community around that context is central to our values and our work at Soul City Church exemplifies those values.

Talk about your experience with value-add construction and how it is different/more challenging than ground-up construction.

For me, value-add construction is more rewarding and challenging than ground-up construction. The added difficulty comes from working within the confines of an existing building, bringing required items up to code, and working within a tight logistical site, to name a few. Seeing an older building take on new life, whether a cosmetic “face-lift” or a complete gut and/or repurposing; being able to save the character and history of a building while simultaneously recycling materials and avoiding waste can be an extremely rewarding process.

Over the last 18 years, you’ve worked in many areas within the construction industry. In addition to your experience as a Project Manager you’ve acted as an Owner’s Rep, and as a Project Estimator, how does your unique experience guide your work as a Project Manager at Focus?

Having worked in different areas of construction and on many different projects has helped me gain a unique perspective on the big picture when it comes to all the work that goes into an individual construction project. Starting as an estimator working on custom million-dollar homes was a great way to enter the field. It was exciting work and I was able to learn about the construction process, bidding, unit costs, historical data value engineering and preparing budgets.

As a Project Manager and Owners Rep, I have been given the opportunity to work on different types of projects while in a different role. I have worked on new construction, renovations, capital improvements, condos, apartments, senior housing, accessible conversions, interior buildouts, restaurants, churches and office buildings.

I have been fortunate to work for several companies with integrations similar to Focus’ where the General Contractor and Architect, were also Owners and Developers themselves. The insight provided by working so closely with different owners helped me better understand the big picture and how all aspects of the project are crucial to a successful job. No detail is too small. Keeping everyone moving in one direction to reach one common goal is the challenge of every project.

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