Loren Luedeman, Project Executive for Barton Malow construction company, led the team that brought the world of Peppa Pig to life, with all the challenges that represented during a pandemic.
What does it take to build a themed park such as Peppa Pig?
This is a first-of its-kind for Merlin [Entertainments], and I was the Project Executive overseeing the team. It’s the first stand-alone Peppa Pig theme park, out in Winter Haven [Florida]. It was constructed in an area of 5.5 acres of [Legoland Florida’s] existing parking lot, so we had an area that was secluded off, where we were able to build it in place. There were many things going into it, and we did get into some challenges.
Construction of the park took place during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Did that hinder your progress?
The owner, Merlin, was overseas, and during the pandemic there was very little opportunity for them to come visit the site, so we did a lot of meetings, but also faced the challenge that they were in different time zones. When we’re getting up, they’d already sent many questions and communications. It was all hours of the day for all the team members. They worked around the clock to respond to each other, to get on the calls at late times, at early times, but everybody worked together to overcome those issues.
Covid restricted travel, but we went into it as trying to be more proactive on things for the owner, trying to earn their respect and trust at what we’re doing. Instead of having somebody walking through [the site] with you, there was a lot of giving them the photographs, going through meetings. They could definitely see great progress; things that were happening along the way.
Ultimately, as things went on, they grew to trust us, and we were able to have transparency with them on all communication. A lot of people at that point were shy to put their video camera on [during video calls]. It was a little challenging, but everybody made the best of it, and we understood that hey, yeah, get on the call and continue that communication. It was definitely a lot of communication and collaboration throughout.
Did you face challenges with delivery and shipping due to the pandemic?
We did have that. Ultimately, the team did meet the schedule. Afterwards, you tend to forget all those issues, but yes, there were some. There were items – some of the rides, some of the equipment that you’re trying to coordinate and understand – when they were shipped out, there were a couple that were incorrect. Pieces or equipment came out wrong, and they had to be reordered.
At that point in time, with all the shipping delays and everything else, you couldn’t wait. Things had to be hopped on immediately [and be] reordered and fast-tracked, and we were able to do whatever we had to do to get new replacement materials in time.
Was that something you and your team found stressful?
It is. You think about that now, you forget all that, but at that point in time it’s like, okay, what else can we do? What other avenue can we work through?
Typically, you’d wait for it to come over on a ship, and we couldn’t. You’ve got to get this thing up. You’ve got to get it flown over here, otherwise it could be stuck. When things are shipped that way, they’ll sit in port for a long time, or trying to get through customs, and it took a much longer time to do that. It was a lot.
Because of the delays, there were things you would typically do on a job as you have concrete coming up, or you have an imbed or something that you’re waiting on, and that piece of equipment comes you’re ready to put it in, well, you can’t.
We had to go back and re-coordinate some of our pours so that we did it strategically, to the point that we could. We left areas where we could block things out, and install when they did come in, so we weren’t delaying those avenues. We tried to take advantage of as much as we could to get things in place, and we’re very delicate and protective of those finishes to bring those items in when they were late.
Because some of the rides were coming from out of the country, for whatever reason – maybe a drawing or the information wasn’t correct – when it shipped from the vendor it wasn’t what we were expecting. At that point they’re like, “Wait a minute, that’s wrong. That’s not the information you provided us.” They would have to reship and get us a new piece of equipment. There were critical items that happened to. It was something that had to be taken seriously, but it’s not out of the ordinary that this happens. It’s just that it happened during the pandemic, and that just complicated things.
Was the five-hour time difference a challenge?
Yes. You’ve got an owner who’s eager; they’re up, and they’re already sending you questions, so it’s not something that you take a day or two to respond to. It was immediately. It was just acknowledging to them that their 13 questions or so you had immediately in the morning, “I hear you, I see this, and it’s going to take me a little bit to get back to you on this.” It’s just letting them know that you’ve seen them right away. It’s like, “Hey. Got it. We’re working on it.” Just following through for them was a big help.
Because Peppa Pig Theme Park is geared toward young children, some of them very young, were there any specific issues you faced in building the park?
I don’t know that I would say there was any unique challenge. For the team, it added more excitement. All our team members, contractors, everybody, they’ve all got kids, grandkids. They knew this was more particular for the younger crew, and it added a higher level of excitement in building this thing that, when it’s done, they’re going to be able to see their grandkids, who are at such a unique age, come out into a park like this.
Were there any funny stories that happened while you were doing the build?
As some of the materials and equipment came out, because it was for such a younger generation, just the sizes – like when you go to Peppa’s house, everything’s on such a small scale – when the crew was standing next to something you’d poke fun at it, like “Hey, is that the right size?”
We’re so used to building something that we’re walking through, we had to think, “Wait a minute. No. This is for the kids.” You’d catch a photo of somebody that showed them in relation to it, and that kept a great attitude.
When we walked around as a team, we’d get different characters, to anchor them, and [for example,] you’d catch our superintendent walking around with ducks for the duck pond and you’d get a photo of them. Everybody had fun with it.
How much did you know about Peppa Pig before this project, and how familiar did you get with the characters?
As we did the pre-construction, everybody was familiar with the cartoon, but we went out and bought some play sets and toys, and had them at our desks so we could see them and visualize what the kids were going to see when they came out. It’s not just on a piece of paper or the cartoon; we actually had [the characters]. Even up to the end we had some toys, [and then] we donated them.
Now that the Peppa Pig Theme Park is done, what are your thoughts on the project?
It is one of those things that you look at it and see how nice it is afterwards. It’s such a nice atmosphere for the kids. I was able to bring two of my kids out there – one of my daughters is older, in her early 20s, and my youngest was 10 years old, so a little bit older than the age there – and they still had a great time walking through it.
You see it and say, “Hey, this would have been something definitely when my kids were that age that I would have enjoyed bringing them to.”
We’ll go back for a meeting, or other things we’re looking at with Merlin, and you see the park and it’s a positive reflection. I’ve got good memories of it, versus all the problems that you typically think of on a project.
Bearing in mind the construction process, if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice at the start of the project, what would it be?
There’s always something you can get ahead of. You can’t let anything slip away. There’s always a part you can get ahead of that will help you at the end. Just continuing to attack all parts of it, and I think that’s what we did really well on that project.
We were able to adapt if something came up. We were able to move and do another section, and come back and address things versus just holding off and saying, “We don’t have that information. We’ll wait and come back to it.”
There are probably a few things I would do differently, but the point is, never lift your foot off the pedal.