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A Real Blast

Moving mountains to bring Las Vegas to Black Hawk

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Nevada-based Ameristar Casinos Inc. acquired far more than a single-story casino when it purchased the Mountain High Casino in Black Hawk, Colo., from Windsor Woodmont Black Hawk Resort Corp. for $114 million in mid-2004.

A Real Blast
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Excavation for the structure required the blasting and removal of 860,000 cu yd of rock and took nearly 18 months to complete. Excavated rock was recycled as backfill within the excavation and as base material for parking areas.
Photo: Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
Excavation for the structure required the blasting and removal of 860,000 cu yd of rock and took nearly 18 months to complete. Excavated rock was recycled as backfill within the excavation and as base material for parking areas.
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The swimming pool and hot tubs are located on an open-air, heated patio on the hotel’s roof. The pool level features a moveable glass wall to enclose the pool during winter months.
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The swimming pool and hot tubs are located on an open-air, heated patio on the hotel’s roof. The pool level features a moveable glass wall to enclose the pool during winter months.

Plans conceived by Windsor Woodmont before the purchase called for an expansion that meshed perfectly with Ameristar’s vision for a Las Vegas-style destination resort and hotel, and once the deal closed, Ameristar moved forward.

Architects PGAV of Kansas City and WATG of Irvine, Calif., along with contractor Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., were brought in to begin an $80-million renovation. A second-story addition enlarged the casino to 55,000 sq ft, while four levels built atop the adjoining parking garage increased capacity to 1,550 vehicles. The original six-story garage was engineered to go higher.

Bringing continuity to the project was Ameristar project superintendent Jack Nevin, a former member of the team that had built the first casino.

“AGC (of Colorado) gave us the ACE Award for innovation and constructability on the garage,” Nevin says. In the first of a series of creative solutions, a track-mounted crane was devised to run the length of the garage with one crane handing off materials to a second.

“This allowed us to keep the garage open and honor our commitment that all facilities remain fully operational throughout construction,” Nevin says. “The only other option, locating a conventional crane at the garage entrance, was unacceptable. That would have meant a protracted closure.”

Meanwhile, plans for the hotel were expanded from 200 rooms to a 34-story, luxury high-rise and spa with 536 rooms costing $236 million.

“The mountain-lodge-style hotel incorporates generous amounts of stone, wood paneling and beams to create a warm, inviting ambiance,” says Ameristar Sales Manager Rollie Fullwood. Amenities include a rooftop pool, fire pits and Jacuzzi tubs; full-service spa and a fitness facility; 15,000 sq ft of conference rooms; and an elegant 7,000-sq-ft porte cochere.

“Our complement of team members has increased from under 500 to nearly 900,” Fullwood says. “That, plus the construction jobs, numbering approximately 850 at peak activity, gave a significant boost to the local economy.”

The hotel broke ground in summer 2006 and opened to guests in October.

Rock Slides

Matt McCaulley, Hensel Phelps’s project manager, says the most daunting aspect of the project was the blasting. “At its deepest, the excavation went down 80 ft,” he adds.

The protracted blasting operation took nearly 18 months to complete. Begun in August 2006 and completed at the end of 2007, the work included removal of 30,000 cu yd of rubble, with a four-month hiatus during which a new fire-pump station was built.

The pump station, rendered unusable by the first of two rockslides that impacted the project, had...

 

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