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Coronavirus hits Miami’s construction industry: Projects halted, site contaminated

Miami-Dade’s construction industry is starting to show symptoms from the coronavirus outbreak.

Work on two major projects — a $300 million Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines headquarters building at the Port of Miami and a University of Miami UHealth Care center in North Miami — has been delayed indefinitely, due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 virus.

On Wednesday, Century Homebuilders Group announced two of the construction workers at the firm’s $100 million 850 Le Jeune Road mixed-use project had tested positive for coronavirus. The company has ordered its general contractor to start a deep cleaning and sanitation process on the large project, which will feature 230 apartments, two towers of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail when completed.

The site will remain closed until the cleaning is completed. The developer is asking any employee or subcontractor who has been on the site for the past 14 days to get tested and consider quarantining. All workers will continue to be paid during the down period.

“This is a stressful time, when our community’s strength and spirit is being tested by an unforeseeable crisis,” said Sergio Pino, founder of the Coral Gables-based Century Homebuilders Group. “I want to assure my staff and subcontractors that we are taking every measure to ensure their safety and will maintain them properly informed in the coming days.”

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On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County closed its Permitting and Inspection Center office for two weeks after four employees who worked in the building at 11805 SW 26th St. tested positive for COVID-19. Some inspections scheduled for Wednesday were canceled, but the office has moved its permitting and other services online.

Construction sites were one of the businesses deemed essential by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on March 19 and allowed to continue to operate during the county’s mass shutdown.

Public projects not affected

At a virtual press conference Wednesday morning, Mark Schaunaman , business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 487 chapter, said that construction on public projects such as the I-395 bridge and the expansion of Jackson Memorial Hospital will continue as planned, but that protective measures have been put into place at active sites to prevent the spreading of the virus.

“Construction sites are not what they were a month ago,” he said. “We don’t have group meetings, we try to maintain six feet of separation, hygiene and sanitation have gone up. Iron workers, plumbers and electricians sometimes have to work together, but we’ve staggered those shifts. Employees are asked to leave their work boots behind when they go home.”

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The Royal Caribbean office building, which was designed to look like a boat, would rise 10 stories and incorporate 350,000 square feet of office space. It would have also nearly doubled the company’s workforce capacity, from 2,200 to 4,200.

“Given the current public health environment, we’ve paused the project,” said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Rob Zeiger. “We’ll resume work at the appropriate time.”

Construction on a parking garage that was to be adjacent to the new building will be completed.

The UHealth Medical Center in North Miami was going to be built on a 10-acre site inside the $4 billion SoLé Mia mixed-use development, a joint venture between Aventura’s Turnberry and the New York-based LeFrak. The center was projected to have 225,000 square feet of space specializing in cancer treatments from Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, eye care by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, cardiology and other specialties.

Lisa Worley, a spokesperson for UM’s Miller School of Medicine, said the university has not made any announcement regarding the future of the North Miami facility.

“Just like anybody, we have to ensure the long-term sustainability of our mission,” she said. “We’re constantly evaluating all aspects of our operation to determine the best course forward.”

Despite the batch of bad news on Wednesday, leaders of Miami’s construction industry remained sanguine — at least for the immediate future.

“All of our 1,000 members are working,” said Richard Quincoces, a leader with the Laborers’ International Union of America (LIUNA) Local 1652, which includes concrete truck drivers, construction workers and general labor jobs. “We haven’t been told of any active job in Miami-Dade County closing down. We have heard that some jobs in other parts of the state might be slowing down. Everyone is taking things on a day-by-day basis.”

This story was originally published March 26, 2020 4:10 PM.

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