During that time, Mortenson went from building its first major sports venue — Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves — to becoming one of the top sports construction companies in the country. And Wood, who leads the company’s national sports group, has overseen much of it.
Whether working a conference room in a suit and tie or kicking up dust at a work site in a hard hat and boots, there’s almost nothing in the life of a project that Wood doesn’t touch.
He plans, pitches and prices. He tells architects and team owners and public authorities what they can or cannot afford to build, and weighs in on hundreds of team decisions, from the selection of subcontractors to monitoring project safety to hiring goals. If a concrete spill screws up a job, he’s on site to fix it, reworking the schedule to keep things on track. If an owner pushes too hard on a questionable idea, he’s there to politely, but firmly, check it.
“He’s a guy I trust, even though he will tell you when you are wrong,” said Stan Meadows, former owner of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, who worked with Mortenson to build the FedEx Forum in Memphis a decade ago. “I had ideas, ridiculous as most of them were. And he’d give me guidance and say ‘Well, let’s look at it this way.’ ”
Meadows said Wood was at his best in July 2003 when a storm packing winds in excess of 100 miles per hour blew through Memphis as Mortenson was building the FedEx. The winds, dubbed “Hurricane Elvis,” buckled three of four large construction cranes.
Although construction stopped for nearly a month, Wood and his team were on-site daily, making up time by reshuffling the work schedule.
The latter was important — if the project wasn’t completed on time, the Grizzlies had an escape clause to relocate to another city. The arena, which opened in 2004, was built on time and on budget.
“We had more than a concern — we had a paranoia,” said Arnold Perl, who at the time worked for the local arena authority. “But to John Wood’s and Mortenson’s credit, they said, ‘We committed to a deadline and we’re going to meet it.’”
Others have been equally impressed.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who worked on the Target Field project, credits Wood’s calm demeanor and self-deprecating humor for taking “tension out of the air” when issues got sticky.
“He’s an Englishman, and he’s very, very low-key,” said Jim Host, the former chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority, which worked with Mortenson on a new arena for the University of Louisville basketball team.
Said Jerry Bell, the Twins’ point man on Target Field, “It gets down to personalities. They had some people at Mortenson who would just go crazy if things didn’t go right. At certain points, that’s what you needed. But you don’t need John that way. And he wasn’t.
“He was the go-to guy when you had a real difficult problem. But there was nothing that was ever confrontational.”
The work ahead
Wood knows that the Vikings stadium will present its own challenges.
Already, a squabble over the dimensions of a baseball diamond in the multipurpose stadium and concerns about project financing have made for second guessing.
Time is tight, too. A schematic design, initially planned for this month, won’t be unveiled until April to give Mortenson more time to work with HKS Inc., the project architect, on pricing. With groundbreaking scheduled for October and a projected opening date of July 2016, “it’ll be pedal to the metal for the duration,” Wood said.
Still, he sees mostly the upside.