JJ Curran Crane Brings Expertise to $627M Little Caesar's Arena

A Detroit-based crane company is helping to build the $627 million Little Caesar’s Arena, the future home of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and the Detroit Pistons basketball team, and an anchor of the new 50-block entertainment area called The District Detroit in the Motor City.

“We’ve off loaded 60 to 70 pieces of mechanical equipment for the project, these include, boilers, chillers, cooling towers and air-handling units,” says Brian Gentner, General Manager of JJ Curran Crane. “We’ve had several different types of cranes on the job.”

Successful Communication

JJ Curran Crane works as a subcontractor for Limbach of Pontiac, Michigan. It’s the first job JJ Curran has had with the mechanical contractor.

“It’s gone very well,” says Jack Knapp, with Limbach. “We will definitely use them in the future. This partnership has gone well.”

JJ Curran started on the project in May 2016 and continues at the job site five or six days per week. The company has had to come back to the arena project on multiple occasions, often on short notice.

“The communication with Limbach has been very open,” Gentner adds. “Anything they have needed, we have accommodated, and anything I needed, they accommodated me.”

Mechanical equipment arrived from all over the United States, and JJ Curran stored much of it, shrink wrapped, in its yard until the arena reached the stage in which it could be installed. The company then staged and set the equipment, including air-handling units, chillers, boilers and HVAC pump packages, into place. Some weighed up to 50,000 pounds.

“Not one piece of equipment got damaged,” Gentner says. “That is the first time this company has stored that many units in its yard. That’s a lot of work that was done.”

The company used three all-terrain cranes: a 450-ton Grove GMK 6400 Crane, a 350-ton Grove GMK 6300L Crane, and a 120-ton Liebherr; a 75-ton Grove Rough Terrain Crane; and four forklifts to move and place equipment at the arena. The 450-ton crane was used to lift heavy chillers and other equipment to the roof. The new 350-ton crane has 262 feet of telescoping hydraulic boom and a swing away jib of 69 feet, providing flexibility within the limitations of the jobsite. “Our 6300L has the longest on-board hydraulic boom in the Detroit area,” Gentner says.

Due to the size of the project and many contractors working on different aspects, JJ Curran has had to coordinate with Limbach and with other companies. It is among several crane companies working at the arena site.

“Everything out here takes a coordinated effort,” Knapp says. “We have plans where we are setting up. There are multiple cranes and multiple buildings. You cannot just focus on your part. JJ Curran has helped tremendously putting those plans together.”

JJ Curran is the only crane company that is a certified Detroit Based Business and Detroit Small Business. More than $315 million in contracts for the arena, representing nearly 60 percent of the work, were awarded to Detroit businesses, and $500 million, representing more than 90 percent of the work went to businesses located in Michigan. Detroit residents have logged more than 200,000 work hours, and 60 Detroit residents have worked as apprentices on the site.

The structural steel framed, 20,000-seat arena topped out in August 2016 and is expected to open in September 2017. About 540 people work on the site daily.

The District Detroit

Located in the heart of the Motor City, The District Detroit project is led by Olympia Development of Michigan, an Ilitch organization. Company founders Mike and Marian Ilitch are the owners of the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and also are the founders of Little Caesar’s Pizza.

The $1.2 billion District Detroit will connect the city’s midtown and downtown areas. It will contain six theaters, five neighborhoods and three professional sports venues. There also will be shops, restaurants, office space and rental residential units. A new rapid transit line will run through the district.

A University of Michigan study estimates the district will generate $2.1 billion in economic activity. A mixed-use building with restaurants, shops and offices is under construction adjacent to the arena. Additionally, Little Caesar’s $150-million, nine-story headquarters expansion is being built in the District Detroit, as are several mixed-used buildings and the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University.

Decades of Michigan Crane Work

John (JJ) Curran founded Dearborn Excavating, a predecessor of the current crane business, in 1950. Four years later Curran bought his first crane – a Lorraine 30-ton mobile truck crane, one of the largest of its type in the city. Recognizing the demand for cranes, he changed the name to JJ Curran Crane and made the excavating business a division of the crane company. By the 1970s, the firm operated a fleet of more than 50 cranes.

JJ always had a keen eye for new and modern equipment. He helped design new cranes, working closely with manufacturers. Keeping up with the latest technology remains a priority for the company. JJ Curran’s technology partner, Fleet Cost & Care division, has been selling fleet management software to the construction and heavy equipment rental industries for more than 20 years.

In 1972, JJ’s oldest son, Larry Curran, joined the company and worked in all divisions to expand his knowledge of the business. Larry continues to serve as President, and his brother, Jeff, as Chief Financial Officer. Larry calls it a privilege to continue the family business.

JJ Curran does significant maintenance work in the area’s steel mills, refineries and heavy industrial plants. The company also has assisted in the construction of wind farms and worked on hospitals and technology centers.

“Having been fortunate enough to be in business for over 65 years, JJ Curran had the privilege of working on the Red Wings current home, the storied Joe Louis arena in the late 1970s as well as Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers,” says Larry Curran.

The company works throughout Southwest Michigan and other surrounding areas. JJ Curran Crane continues to search for ways to complete every job more efficiently. Safety is always the top priority, Curran says, and consistency and reliability are never sacrificed.

“We have a slogan; we have good people, quality equipment and fair pricing,” Larry Curran says. “We live by that.”

(Reprinted from Michigan Contractor and Builder magazine.)

Publish Date: 
Thursday, February 16, 2017