Steve Puttroff is a man who clearly enjoys his job. As senior director of construction management at Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA), Chicago, which owns and manages McCormick Place and Navy Pier, he sees tangible proof each day that he and his staff of 12 professionals are making an impact on the city’s convention and tourism future.
He marvels at the wealth of resources this results-oriented group brings to each project, noting the benefits and challenges of working on the variety of MPEA facilities. “From the exposition business at McCormick Place to the retail and tourism aspect of Navy Pier, we are just so diverse,” he explains. Two common themes for these two complexes prevail – placing a premium on customer service, while keeping anything other than business as usual “invisible” to the public. It’s a balancing act, he says, “especially since we’re a small department within a big organization. However, it’s always a matter of whether the glass is half full or half empty: Is this a headache or an opportunity?”
Most of Puttroff’s (and his staff’s) time is presently occupied by the construction of McCormick Place West, an expansion to the city’s premier convention center that in the current design proposes adding about 720,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting room space to the McCormick Place complex. Official groundbreaking occurred in late May, with substantial completion slated for late 2007 and occupancy in 2008. Once completed, the West Building will allow new conventions and meetings to be booked in Chicago (main exhibit halls in each building of McCormick Place currently operate above practical maximum occupancy), and it will also create a unique, flexible facility that will set the standard for convention centers in the future.
Puttroff’s 3-year experience as MPEA’s senior utility manager during his 14.5-year tenure has provided him a unique perspective as this expansion – and others in the future – unfold. “I gained a true understanding of what our customers expected,” he recalls. “When you meet with people and deal with them on a day-to-day basis about how to get their electricity and plumbing in on schedule, you really get in touch with their needs and how best to respond.”
Such responsiveness extends to his colleagues as well, in the form of feedback and accolades. Puttroff recalls the pride he felt during his first big project at MPEA: the renovation of Navy Pier from 1990 to 1994. “After substantial parts of the complex were opened up, I’d go to Navy Pier in a jacket or a hard hat that identified me as an MPEA employee. I remember people coming up to me on the dock and saying, ‘It’s great to have Navy Pier rehabilitated. You guys did a great job; you got it right.’ I always made it a point to spread the word to as many people as I could. That was really satisfying – not just to me, but to everybody involved in the project.”
And satisfying projects have been a part of Puttroff’s history almost as long as he can remember. “As a kid, I was the one [at the site] where they were building houses and I just liked watching construction,” he says. “Now, I get to be involved in construction and I still enjoy it to this day. It’s rewarding to be a part of something that you know is real and concrete and will be there for a long time.”
Linda K. Monroe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.