Case Studies

GulfQuest Maritime Museum: Like No Other in the World

  • Written by: GulfQuest Maritime Museum: Like No Other in the World
  • Produced by: GulfQuest Maritime Museum: Like No Other in the World
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

The Gulf of Mexico is a defining element for the city of Mobile, Ala. For more than two decades, city and state officials have been dreaming of a museum to honor the seafaring heritage along the Gulf Coast. After a groundbreaking ceremony in April 2009, Mobile’s dream is slowly becoming reality.

The Michael C. Dow, National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico – otherwise known as GulfQuest – is a $38 million construction project with an additional $20 million estimated for exhibits and furnishings. The building, which is still under construction, resembles the hull of a vessel. Situated on the bank of the Mobile River, the building appears from a distance as if it is heading to sea.

The grand lobby entails a large rotunda that provides ground-floor access to a variety of amenities, including ticketing, a full-service café and a museum store. Visitors entering the museum will find themselves in a large rotunda with a café and museum store. The four-level building will boast a variety of exhibits, observation decks, an orientation theater, meeting rooms and event spaces. The interior will commemorate the development of containerized shipping with an atrium and viewing bridges.

Location, Location, Location

Mobile is the oldest and the third largest city in Alabama, and also home to Alabama’s only saltwater port, located in the northern-central part of the Gulf Coast. Since France settled the city in the early 1700s, Mobile’s development has been defined by its port and access to the Gulf of Mexico. Locating the museum right on the Mobile River was important to those planning the project. The museum marks a central position along the Gulf Coast. Nearly every Gulf Coast metro area can access the museum in a day’s drive.

“Everyone has been touched at one time or another by our maritime industry and culture,” says Mobile Mayor Samuel Jones on the museum’s website.
In addition, the Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water in the world. It spans 600,000 square miles and provides resources such as fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and maritime recreation, shipping ports and 90 percent of the nation’s oil and gas production.

A Team Effort

GulfQuest’s design team is comprised of Watermark Design, the architect on the project, and Thompson Engineering, the engineer of record. Both firms are based in Mobile. Hoar Program Management (HPM) is the construction manager on GulfQuest. HPM was hired by the city of Mobile to provide management and oversight during the design and construction phases of the project. Jared Scheeter, senior project manager for HPM, says coordinating the project has been an exercise in teamwork.

Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. – and with offices in Mobile and Huntsville, Ala.; as well as Orlando, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Charlottesville, Va. – HPM was created in 1998 as a division of Hoar Construction. HPM was created to provide 70 years of comprehensive construction related experience to clients who lack their own professional design and construction management staff.

In the current situation with GulfQuest, HPM’s services include generating and reconciling budgets throughout design, performing design quality and constructability reviews, soliciting bids, recommending contract awards, as well as construction oversight, quality control, contract administration, providing project cost accounting, schedule generation and monitoring, change order resolutions and facilitating the flow of information between team members. In addition, HPM also serves as an extension of the owner’s staff during the building program.

Scheeter says he is working with 10 different prime contractors to complete the museum. The city is the owner of the property, which will then be leased to the nonprofit that will operate GulfQuest. The company has to work with members of the city, members of the museum and all the contractors involved for clear instructions and common direction.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges we deal with on a daily basis is making sure things are coordinated and we’re all working toward the same goals, which means continually striving to align individual interests with the interests of the project,” says Scheeter.

According to Scheeter, the project is being delivered using the Multi-Prime CM model, whereby the project is split into bid packages that are awarded to individual trade contractors who contract directly with the owner. With some contractors accustomed to working independently as general contractors and others waiting for instructions due to previous experience as subcontractors, it has been a challenge. Scheeter reports that he has had to keep an even keel on all ends to keep everyone on the same page.

In addition, the design of the building presents its own challenges. “I’ve never built a concrete ship before,” laughs Scheeter. “This project is like no other in so many ways. Probably one of the most striking things is when you walk into the building you’ll marvel at how complicated the design is.”

A Ship Inside

It was important for the design to resemble a vessel from the outside. Those providing input during the design phases didn’t think that was quite enough, though. In addition to the exterior, there is a full-size replica of a container ship inside the building.

Exhibits will coordinate thematically to areas inside the ship, including the main deck, crew’s quarters, captain’s quarters, as well as the bridge and inside the containers. Many of the exhibits will also be interactive, as Scheeter says the museum is intended to be more interactive.

One of the exhibits on board is a ship pilot simulator. Visitors will be able to step into the simulator and feel they are aboard a real vessel. There will also be all of the controls of a normal ship and virtual images of the Mobile River. Simulators will give visitors the opportunity to sail a ship from the river into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the museum’s website, Alabama Governor Bob Riley says, “GulfQuest is going to give the southern part of Alabama ‘critical mass’ for tourism. Now we have that ‘signature project’ where people can stay and be entertained in a way they could not have been before.”

Organizers hope the hands-on experience will help teach visitors about the Gulf of Mexico’s heritage. The museum will serve as not only a tourism spot, but also an educational resource for schools nearby. GulfQuest Maritime Museum expects to open by fall 2013.

Published on: March 28, 2013

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