Piece by piece: AC Hotel in NuLu stacking its prefabricated rooms

Correction appended

A new hotel under construction in NuLu neighborhood will be the first of its kind in Louisville.

All 156 rooms at the $38.6 million AC Hotel were constructed off site in a climate-controlled facility and shipped to the construction site at East Market and Shelby streets, where they are then stacked into place. The method is called modular construction.

“So far, it’s been fantastic,” said Carl Hren, vice president of architecture and construction for Concord Hospitality, a North Carolina hotel development and management company.

Hren and others were on hand at the construction site Wednesday morning to showcase the modules of the hotel rooms coming in and how the modules are stacked one on top of the other.

The modules were built off site by Pennsylvania-based Champion Commercial Structures. Each module is 64 feet long by 14 feet wide and include two prefabricated guestrooms and an unfinished corridor. In total, the hotel will be constructed using 108 modules.

The AC Hotel will only be four stories, but Chris Waters, director of business development at Champion Commercial Structures, said some companies were able to reach 20 stories.

“We built-in wood frame so we are limited in our height,” Waters said. “But there are providers building in steel. They can go up to 20 stories. You are going to see a lot of that coming in 3, 5, 7 years.”

Back in May, Marriott, which owns the AC Hotel brand, kicked off an initiative to promote modular construction, saying that it will allow operators to open hotels and start earning revenue faster. The AC Hotel in Louisville will be the fifth Marriott brand hotel to be built out of modules.

“They’ve been measuring labor shortages and schedule pushes, and it’s been impacting their ownership group,” Waters said of Marriott. “For their model, they are just looking for better ways to help their development crew construct.”

Building using modules is in its infancy in the United States, said Waters, but in Europe, it is much more common. It’s the building model for the future given current industry pressures, he said.

“I think you are going to see a lot of off-site construction taking hold,” he said. “Gotta have options, construction’s gotta happen, the economy’s booming, and right now, there is just not enough labor.”

The biggest barrier to modular construction, as Waters sees it, is capacity; there aren’t enough companies making the modules.

The modular construction method will allow crews to shave a couple of months off the construction timeline because a lot of the interior build-out is already done, Hren said. “The last month or two of the hotel project can be just overwhelming. This takes a huge chunk of that off our plate.”

The AC Hotel is slated to open in spring 2018, and Concord Hospitality has already started the hiring process. The hotel will employee about 50.

In addition to the hotel, the project includes a restaurant and retail space. A representative with Concord Hospitality said they are still in negotiations with possible tenants.

This post has been updated to correct Carl Hren’s name.