“This type of development puts a spotlight on Atlanta and Georgia,” says Tyler Smith, Project Manager with Contour Engineering, a UES Company. “It’s exciting to see the growth that has happened here and in our state. It’s huge and a really cool project.”
Georgia has become a destination for filmmaking and has 4 million square feet of stage space, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The state offers tax incentives and has a wide variety of location settings as well. For the fiscal year 2022, the film and television industry spent $4.4 billion in Georgia, and the state played host to 412 productions, including 32 feature films, according to the Georgia Film Office.
In May 2020, UES acquired Georgia-based Contour Engineering, which was working on the Assembly Atlanta project. Early on in the development, UES completed more than 100, 6-inch diameter soil test borings to get a good understanding of the site for design and foundation purposes. The company is responsible for geotechnical engineering at the former industrial property.
“This is a mega project,” says Scott Thomson, Vice President and Principal Engineer at Contour Engineering, a UES Company. “From our standpoint, we feel fortunate to be able to work on a project such as this.”
Gray Television of Atlanta, owner of more than 100 television stations and Swirl Films, purchased the property in April 2021 for about $80 million, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company anticipates Assembly Atlanta construction costs of $195 million to $205 million, which it expects to be partially offset by proceeds from property sales and incentive payments in 2023.
Gray and its affiliated film companies will use some of the facilities and rent others to production companies. NBCUniversal Media is leasing some of the space and will manage all of the studio space.
Additionally in a delayed second phase, plans include adding apartments, a hotel, corporate offices, restaurants, and retail stores to the 135-acre development northeast of Atlanta in DeKalb County.
The General Motors plant opened in 1947 and closed in September 2008. The property near Interstate 285 and Interstate 85 and two MARTA stations became home to Third Rail Studios, owned by Gray; Serta Simmons Bedding headquarters; and Asbury Automotive. Gray purchased the entire property in 2021. At that announcement, Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman said he expects the planned development will attract thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in investments to the city.
“Schedule is a driving factor on these mega projects,” Thomson says. “It’s all about time. The end user expects it to open on a certain date.”
Crews dismantled the existing structure and properly disposed of or recycled the components. Eighty-eight acres of concrete were crushed and reused on the project as aggregate road base and in new structure slabs. All of the steel and rebar from the old automotive plant were recycled. All stormwater structures were brought above ground.
Grading took place in the winter of 2021, despite the difficulties with the weather. “These bigger projects cut over the seasons,” Thomson says.
Crews used lime to stabilize and dry out the soil. Workers also placed fill on the existing soil and founded the buildings on aggregate vibrated stone columns to allow for densification of the materials, Thomson says.
“The aggregate piers used were used due to the size of the buildings and the variable of material in an old site like this,” Thomson says.
During excavation, workers uncovered a 30-foot-high underground room, which had served as a basement and housed the chiller for the General Motors stamping plant. It remained buried for 14 years but has since been removed. Crews moved the pipes and steel out piece by piece and backfilled dirt into the massive hole. UES monitored the process.
The ceilings in eight studio buildings are 50 feet high – the tallest in Georgia – and have catwalks and an upper grid for hanging lights, cameras and other elements. The walls are concrete tilt-wall construction with steel trusses for the roofs. The last steel beam was lifted into place in March 2023. The project also includes a 4-acre park with a pond and water features.
About 1,100 construction workers are on the site daily. “There are multiple contractors that need our resources,” Thomson says. “We were able to staff that with the right number of people.”
In addition to the site borings early on, during construction, UES has provided construction material testing and special inspections.
“Special inspections hold contractors to a standard,” Smith says. “We go out and perform inspections on a set schedule that have to take place.”
The work includes sampling concrete to ensure it meets the construction document’s PSI, observing steel erection and masonry work, and monitoring soil compaction and foundation placement. “It creates a higher level of construction,” Smith adds.
The studio construction should be complete in June 2023. Smith praised the teamwork on the project.
“It has a lot of moving parts, and the construction schedule was tight,” Smith says. “With two contractors out there, we have to have our coordination down, so things are reported in a timely manner.”
Photos courtesy of UES