AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown Project Incorporates Modular Construction
CHAPEL HILL NC (MAY 19, 2017) – AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is slated to open late September. And yet, just four short months shy of welcoming its first guests, the hotel job site comprised little more than underground parking and a main level platform – nary a guestroom in sight. Progress, however, had been steadily under way. Guestrooms were indeed being built – but simply out of sight, at a modular manufacturing facility in Liverpool PA rather than on site in bustling downtown Chapel Hill. This OTO Development project – a 4-story, 123-room lifestyle hotel within the Marriott brand portfolio – is the hospitality industry’s first modular construction project in the region and, as such, provided Chapel Hill a look at what’s become a growing trend amongst hotel developers: incorporating prefabricated room modules into hospitality builds has increased 31% and 27.5%, respectively, in the last two years, according to the Modular Building Institute.
Building from Afar
While guestrooms didn’t show up on the AC Hotel Chapel Hill job site until mid-May, they had begun taking shape elsewhere months before. “Champion started mass production of room modules at our Liverpool facility back in late January, following a prototype build review/approval process,” says Chris Waters, Director of Business Development at Champion Commercial Structures, a division of Champion Home Builders Inc. “Everything was completed in a climate-controlled factory – away from inclement weather and other delays typically encountered on conventional jobsites.” Building within a controlled environment yields a variety of benefits – accelerated production schedule, better quality control and improved cost efficiencies, according to Waters – while also addressing challenges such as the ongoing shortage of skilled-labor in many markets. OTO Development has developed more than 60 hotels over the past 13 years, but AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is the first time the company has incorporated prefabricated guestrooms into a construction project. It’s also the first Marriott-branded project on the east coast to do so – part of Marriott International’s recent embrace of modular construction with a goal of signing 50 such projects in 2017. “We’d been watching modular for several years,” says Dennis Mitchell, Development Manager at OTO. “Marriott’s support for modular construction was key in making the decision. Marriot ran the due diligence, and ran through a lot of the design considerations – the brand was truly a partner in this process.” Also partnering with OTO on its initial foray into modular construction were ODA, architectural design; LeChase Construction Services, general contractor; and of course Champion, modular construction provider. AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is pursuing LEED certification and will further incorporate “green” practices into its daily operations.
Ideal for Urban
Located at the corner of Rosemary and Church in downtown Chapel Hill, the AC Hotel project makes for a tight, urban job site – a challenging set of circumstances that further encouraged OTO to give the prefab process a go. “Modular construction helps lessen impact on the surrounding neighborhood,” Mitchell says, noting the job site’s proximity to the Northside residential district. “The noise, construction debris and other disturbances typically generated on a conventional job site were relocated to the manufacturing facility.” That all took place at the Champion factory in Pennsylvania. Typically, one module contains two guestrooms, and it took approximately 14 days for each module to make it through all stations of the production line. The process of “stacking” these prefabbed rooms began mid-May, as the modules were trucked from the Liverpool manufacturing site to the Chapel Hill job site, then craned in and stacked up over the conventionally-built main level platform. The stacking process takes approximately 14 days, weather permitting, and there are further details to be completed on site. Wiring, pipes and ductwork for the electrical, communications, plumbing and HVAC systems must be connected between guestroom and corridor – currently an open stud cavity – and then hallways will be finished. Exterior siding and trim will be installed, followed by the finished roof system. As far as the factory-built guestrooms themselves, the on-site crew merely needs to hang pictures and unbox floor lamps, mini-fridges, coffee tables, safes … and then bring in pillows, sheets and towels.
Rooms to Grow
A leading commercial modular supplier, Champion has been serving the hospitality industry for the past five years – and finds it a perfect fit with plenty of room to grow. “Modular hotel guestrooms are nearly an ideal product line for our build process,” says Waters, explaining that two finished guestrooms and an unfinished double-loaded corridor are easily shaped within each module. “In simple terms, everything ‘stays within the confine of the rectangle’ and, essentially, creates a true Lego effect.” AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown’s U-shape structure made this project particularly interesting for Champion. “The design offers insight into the many possibilities of what can be done in a modular scheme,” Waters says. “It proves that modular can be used in something other than large rectangular design/build scenarios. The articulation of the stairtype elevation at both ends of the structure is also noteworthy, as it displays the architectural flare that can be achieved with modular.” With his first prefabbed project nearly complete, OTO’s Mitchell has identified lack of flexibility as a potential downside – once the overall modular plan has been finalized, it really is final. “One drawback is that decisions which our industry typically puts off until later in the process – design, submittals, construction – must be made early,” Mitchell says, but this could be either a bug or a feature since changes later in the process of conventional builds typically add costs to the process. “A benefit of modular is that it minimizes change orders.” As AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown began stacking up the week of May 15, it seemed as if the project was coming together right before spectators’ eyes. The completed hotel will meld modern architecture with local accents, including a community mural. An AC Lounge, open to guests and locals alike, will feature tapas, light fare, specialty drinks … and a serving of Southern Hospitality flavored with a hint of European flare. As September’s opening date draws near, OTO Development is already eying its next project. “With the right opportunities, we will use modular again,” Mitchell says.
About AC Hotel Chapel Hill & OTO Development
AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is a 4-story, 123-room property melding modern architecture with local accents, including a community mural. An AC Lounge, open to guests and locals alike, will feature tapas, light fare, specialty drinks ... and a serving of Southern Hospitality flavored with a hint of European flare. AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is pursuing LEED certification and, with its emphasis on walkability, will foster sustainability along with well-designed urban style. Slated to open late September, the hotel is part of AC Hotels by Marriott, a lifestyle brand within the Marriott International global portfolio of 19 brands. The brand currently offers a portfolio of more than 80 hotels in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Turkey, France and the United States. For more information, visit the AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown's website.
OTO Development is an award-winning, fast-growing hotel development and management company. Founded in 2004 and partnering with the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott brands, OTO's industry leadership position is anchored by a portfolio of excellent hotels staffed by exceptional people. The company has developed more than 60 hotels over the past 13 years while also adding to its list of managed properties, which now comprise 7,200+ room keys. Today, OTO's impressive growth is focused on new urban development projects in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Manhattan and Washington DC as well as increasing emphasis on acquiring new management contracts for clients ranging from publicly traded REITs to private equity firms to high net worth individuals. For more information about OTO Development, visit