May 25, 2017
I have been thinking of cranes lately. Specifically, the four tower cranes in operation in the city right now. If you haven’t noticed the city skyline of late, these are clustered at the western end of Main Street with two supporting the construction of the UVA Medical Center expansion, one a new 150 room Marriott hotel and another; a large new residential apartment complex.
Why does this matter? In the urban development world, a crane means that work has begun; that all the predevelopment (i.e. planning, permitting and financing) hurdles have been cleared and a project of some significance is actually being constructed. And the fixed tower crane, with monthly rental costs of up to $20,000, is the king of all cranes. It strikes me that in a city of our size to have four in use simultaneously is significant. To me it means jobs, investment, confidence and commitment.
As it turns out others care about cranes as well. Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) is a global firm specializing in cost management, quantity surveying and project management for the construction industry. RLB conducts a biannual crane index that tracks cranes in major cities across the world. They have found it to be a simple, yet useful barometer of the construction industry.
As for the United States, the city with the greatest amount of active tower cranes is surprising. Not New York, not Los Angeles, but Seattle is the tower crane capital of America, and it has, as of November 2016, 62 of them in active use. Several factors are triggering the use of so many cranes in Seattle, including various high-rise, mixed-use buildings adjacent to Amazon’s headquarters, the city’s booming Denny Triangle neighborhood, and various other downtown urban developments. In fact, Seattle’s crane count has grown so much in the past year (by 38 percent) that there is a shortage of available operators.
So, you may wonder, of the 20 metros surveyed, where would Charlottesville with its current collection of four cranes rank? Well, the answer would be dead last. But the interesting thing is that next to last is Phoenix, AZ, with five cranes currently. Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the US, has 500 square miles and a population of 1.5 million. Charlottesville is the thirteenth largest city in Virginia with just over 49,000 in population and 10 square miles. Hardly seems a fair comparison, yet Phoenix 5 cranes, Charlottesville 4 cranes.
While Charlottesville will never (and should never) compete with the major metros tracked on the RLB index, a quick scan of the horizon does provide a simple and fairly accurate indication of the current level of investment occurring in the city.
Will our crane count grow? I predict that it will. Stay tuned…
-Chris Engel, Director