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Virtual modeling resolves 400 Central construction challenges

Veronica Brezina



A virtual model of the infrastructure for 400 Central. Image: Suffolk Construction.

In the first nine levels of the future 46-story 400 Central tower, general contracting firm Suffolk Construction has avoided over 1,300 building conflicts from ductwork to piping, thanks to an advanced virtual modeling program. 

“We took the standard virtual design in construction (VDC) model and incorporated every aspect of the project, not just the main systems, down to the most mundane things. It has a 100% accuracy – there is no guesswork,” Suffolk MEP Project Manager Dennis Kleiner. 

Construction for the 400 Central project as of August. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

The Boston-based construction firm was hired in 2022 by Red Apple Real Estate, headed by New York billionaire John Catsimatidis, to develop the 1.3 million-square-foot project on Central Avenue. The 2.3-acre site will include 301 luxury condominiums with views of downtown and the Gulf of Mexico.

The tower will soar 515 feet above downtown St. Petersburg, becoming the tallest building on Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

Suffolk’s VDC model gives the team “X-ray vision,” showing everything from the bare bones of buildout from the residential units to the ductwork, pipes and electrical panels to the drill shifts and underground piles. 

A VR rendering of the pipes, pilings and entire underground system at 400 Central. Image: Suffolk Construction.

“Electricians take the path of least resistance and plumbers have their own pathways. When we overlay the model, we can find any problem that could be resolved by simply offsetting or rerouting the pipes,” Kleiner said. “We communicate with the different contractors, trade partners, designers and owners as we complete each floor.”

“Without this, we would have to come back to the room and have long meetings to figure it all out. For our buyers of residences, what this really means is the project saves time and lowers costs,” Suffolk Project Executive Chris Lewis noted.  


Suffolk has worked on a handful of other developments in the state, including the guitar-shaped Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino expansion, and projects at the Tampa International Airport. 

The group has a partnership with a company based out of Europe that does the data entry for the modeling and exact appliances for the 400 Central residential units. 

Through the program, the Suffolk team was able to avoid a colossal mistake involving the generator. 

The virtual model of the electrical room showing the original wall location would not be adequate for the generator and would need to be moved. Image: Suffolk Construction.

“When they put the exact model of the generator into this, we found the electrical room wasn’t big enough. We told the design team we need to move a wall. This would have been a major issue,” Kleiner said. 

The electrical room has post-tension slabs. Retrofitting the space and relocating the panels after the generator is installed in an improper location would have been a costly mistake, setting the project back by weeks. 

“If you stick to the model and not deviate from it, there will not be an [foreseeable] issue,” Kleiner said. 

Suffolk also uses the OpenSpace photo documentation tool. As the team readies to pour a floor, Connor Walker, Suffolk’s assistant superintendent, straps a camera to his hard hat and walks the site to capture 360-degree images of the rebar, cabling channels and glass railing areas for the balconies. 

Over 140 Suffolk contractors are at the site on a daily basis doing underground work for the 400 Central project. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

“If we need to come back at any point and do some rework on the floor, we can use these images. The cables have extremely high tensions that we can’t touch,” Lewis said. 

Today, the team is doing site work on the fifth floor while simultaneously modeling and constructing the parking garage. 

Once the base is completed, the team will have a rinse-and-repeat weekly process of pouring slabs and creating vertical columns for each floor. 

A rendering of 400 Central. Image: Red Apple Real Estate.

Catsimatidis is considering doubling the 40,000-square-foot office space due to the live-work demand. Nearly half of the condo units have sold. 

Red Apple Real Estate is also working with the architectural firm Arquitectonica. 

The $400 million project will be completed by the first quarter of 2025. 

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