Blythe Construction Helps Turn Military Manufacturing Site into Charlotte’s Next Commercial Hotspot
By Garrett Simmons
For years it stood vacant and unused behind a chain-link fence. But prior to 1973 the warehouse at 1701 N. Graham Street was full of activity. Built in the 1920s, it originally produced Ford Model Ts before being used by the U.S. Army as a quartermaster depot, then later as a missile assembly plant. Most notably in its history, however, is the late 1960s and early 70s, when it was the production site of its unusual namesake: a six-wheeled semi-amphibious military transport vehicle called the Gama Goat.
Now after years of neglect the historic warehouse is being repurposed once again. It’s part of a 75+ acre commercial complex known as Camp North End. Once finished, the Gama Goat Building will house office and retail spaces that cater to creative businesses like those already established in other Camp North End facilities, including: Hex Coffee, Black Market, Silver Eye Studios, Goodyear Arts and others.
The creative focus of the Camp North End complex, combined with the history of the Gama Goat building, has generated a fair amount of public interest in the project. Factor in the site’s proximity to Uptown Charlotte—less than one mile from the city center—and it’s easy to understand the excitement surrounding the work that’s being done.
For Blythe Construction, Gama Goat is an opportunity to be involved in a project that’s unique to Charlotte’s history, as well as expand its presence in the private market.
“During the last few years, we’ve gradually taken on more projects in the private sector,” says Mick Hartz, Construction Engineer at Blythe. “Gama Goat stands out because of its history, and the long-term plan for Camp North End.”
For its part, Blythe is responsible for completing all curb and concrete work, drainage, grading, and dirt work, as well as paving all parking areas. The project marks the first in which Blythe has worked for general contractor Graycor of Charlotte, a partnership that has been a positive experience from day one, according to Blythe Superintendent Mark Spradling.
“The work that we’ve done so far is fairly straightforward,” he says. “The only real challenge we’ve encountered has been coordinating our work with crews working inside the building so that we all stay on schedule. It’s a little bit tight, but so far everything has gone smoothly.”
Spradling, who remembers seeing actual Gama Goats during his time in the Army, says learning the history of the jobsite has made the experience of working on it more enjoyable. “It’s interesting, not just because of what was made here, but because of what it’s being turned into. There’s some pretty cool stuff going on here,” he says, pointing out some of the businesses established elsewhere on the Camp North End property. “We couldn’t be happier to be part of it.”
Blythe crews are scheduled to complete the contract in early summer of this year, at which time the Gama Goat building will welcome its first tenants.
Project: Salem Creek Connector
Awarded: January 26th, 2019
On January 26th of this year, Blythe Construction received the Carolinas AGC 2018 Pinnacle Award for Best Highway Project over $5 Million. The ceremony, which took place in Charleston, SC, was part of the CAGC’s 98th Annual Convention to honor projects that both advance the construction industry and enhance regional communities. This year’s Pinnacle Award marks the third in Blythe’s company history, and much like the previous two, it’s a bit of hard-earned recognition for a project with many challenges.
Completed in December of 2017, the Salem Creek Connector was more complex than any previous design-build project undertaken by Blythe Construction for the North Carolina DOT. The project consisted of railroad components, eight bridges, and multiple aesthetic features including the Winston-Salem Gateway Arch. In total, nearly five years of continuous work by Blythe Construction crews went into finishing the project, whose contract value exceeded $88 million.
The Salem Creek Connector was designed to better connect downtown Winston-Salem with the Research Triangle Corridor. The majority of the work was conducted in the historic Happy Hills neighborhood, within an area of approximately four square miles centered on US Hwy 52. The confined workspace was just one obstacle in a project characterized by challenges, not least of which was coordinating traffic in one of the most heavily travelled areas of the city. The NCDOT contract stipulated that traffic on Hwy 52 be maintained during every phase of construction. To accomplish this, Blythe implemented a complex traffic control plan that included numerous lane shifts and temporary diversions.
To complicate operations even further, not only was vehicular traffic maintained, but daily railroad activity of Winston-Salem’s Southbound trains couldn’t be interfered with either. The Salem Creek project included replacing two railroad bridges that were travelled twice daily by trains. In order to maintain the rail schedule, Blythe constructed temporary tracks to divert train activity during replacement of the primary tracks.
Since its completion, the project has garnered a fair amount attention. Prior to receiving the CAGC Pinnacle Award, Blythe Construction received the ACEC Engineering Excellence Award for the same project on November 8th, 2018. Brian Webb, Senior Vice President at Blythe Construction, is appreciative of the recognition but says the Pinnacle Award is a special honor because of who gives it.
“The committee consists entirely of previous Pinnacle Award winners,” he explains. “It’s an award given to us by our peers in the construction industry, who understand the challenges of the project. They know better than anyone what we have accomplished, so it is a great honor and a compliment to be recognized in this way.”
Webb says that while the CAGC and the ACEC awards are encouraging, Blythe’s approach moving forward will remain focused on what the company does best. “We are typically very selective about the contracts we pursue,” he says, “especially design-build projects like the Salem Creek Connector, because they carry a substantial amount of risk. They are not occasions to experiment. You have to know what you’re capable of.”
In fact, he says, Blythe would not have considered the Salem Creek project if it hadn’t been capable of performing all the work itself. “As a contractor, we know what we do well—that happens to be this kind of high-traffic, complex project. With Salem Creek, we knew that we would perform most everything ourselves without having to subcontract large portions of the work. This allowed us to control our destiny, so to speak.”
Special congratulations to Project Manager Eric Becker and the Blythe Construction crew members who made the Salem Creek Connector project a success.
By: Garrett Simmons
Employee Name: Jason Mauney
Title: Operational Equipment Manager
Years at Blythe: 17
Operational Equipment Manager Jason Mauney has no trouble remembering the exact year he was hired to work at Blythe Construction. In fact, he is unlikely to ever forget it. Not because it marked the beginning of a long and fruitful career with the company—although it did—but because of the many other life-changing events that took place during that same year, events which challenged him deeply at the time but which, looking back seventeen years later, he can almost appreciate.
At the start of 2001, Mauney was employed as a Dock Supervisor for Southeastern Freight Lines in Charlotte, NC. A self-proclaimed “company man,” he had every intension of keeping his job there. But family tragedy that summer disrupted Mauney’s sense of permanence and stability, and in early September he was fired from his position at Southeastern Freight—or as he jokingly puts it, “I was made available to the industry.”
In his early twenties at the time, Mauney spent a long weekend regrouping. The following Tuesday, as he gathered a stack of resumes to hit the streets of Charlotte, news broke on TV that terrorists were attacking the World Trade Center.
“I’ll always remember it for that reason,” he says. “The timeline is clear in my mind because of that.”
Another month would pass before one day, out of the blue, an old coworker who had found a job with Blythe called Mauney to tell him the company was hiring. Again, the timing was memorable. “I was literally packing a bag to go work in Savannah,” he recalls. His plan was to work six days in Georgia and drive back every seventh day to spend time with his then girlfriend, soon to become his wife. Thrilled by the prospect of remaining close to her, he abandoned his plans for Savannah on the spot and drove to Blythe’s Graham Street office to put in his application.
There, Mauney interviewed with Blythe’s Division Equipment Manager, Steve Burleyson, who hired him that afternoon. On March 10th, one month and three days after he had been fired, he went to work at Blythe Construction as a Heavy Haul Dispatcher.
Mauney’s freight experience translated perfectly to the tasks of his new position: arranging loads for delivery, processing order payments, and billing jobsites. As a result, he often completed his dispatch duties early. “I figured there just wasn’t enough work for me,” he recalls thinking. As the equipment department gradually began thinning out, either through senior employees retiring or less competent employees being fired, Mauney took on greater responsibilities.
Over the next fifteen years, Mauney ascended within the company to become Equipment Manager, adapting his leadership style to what he describes as Blythe’s production-focused culture at the time. “I was a jerk. Or maybe that’s how some people took me,” he says. “I can just be very direct in my communication. Especially when something’s not working.”
Then in 2016, chest pains following a trip to Atlanta landed Mauney in the E.R. Doctors identified several blocked arteries to his heart and arranged for immediate triple-bypass surgery. Recalling his response to the news, Mauney says it was a shock, but explains, “You realize this isn’t an elective, it’s required. Just accept it and move forward.”
Under doctors’ orders, Mauney spent more three months at home recovering. During that time, he says, he discovered how central his employer had become in his life, and how personally valued he had become. “People from Blythe checked in on me,” he says, including the company President and CEO. “Cahill called me every week. How many company presidents would do that? Not many, I’m willing to bet.”
Two years later and fully recovered from his surgery, Mauney says the experience has given him new perspective on what’s important in life, as well as in work.
“I’m sappier now,” he admits. “I take things to heart more. My family is more important to me.” Although Mauney and his wife do not have children, he has a large family of nieces and nephews in the Charlotte area, many of whom have children of their own. “That’s right,” he says with a laugh. “I’m that old.” One of them, his nephew Josh, has even joined the Blythe family as a Construction Engineer.
In an interesting way, says Mauney, he and Blythe have evolved along a similar trajectory. “Around here, the mentality used to be push, push, push, get it done. There has been a shift over the last few years, putting a major emphasis on safety,” he says. “The focus now is guaranteeing everyone goes home in one piece at the end of the day.”
That doesn’t mean Mauney doesn’t still get stressed out. “It’s my nature,” he explains. “How I do my job is how I’m perceived, so it’s important to me to work hard. But that’s put in the perspective of also wanting to take care of my family and be good to those I care about.”
At last, he and Blythe have reached a stage where they can do both.