Top: Six-feet tall EIFS-coated replica statues.
Bottom: These Tuscan-glaze finishes display the Old-world style color palette used throughout the project.

"San Marcos is the perfect example of how versatile foam application can be," says Bill Lewis, vice president of Johnson County Foam, whose company created the foam shapes used on the elaborate Prime Outlets shopping plaza in San Marcos, Texas. Lewis takes great pride in this project-the most detailed and thorough of his 25-year career-though is amazed that even outlet malls today are finding ways to draw and attract customers through architecture. Thanks to Johnson County Foam and the other companies that partook in the project, the investment has paid off, as Prime Outlets was reported to be the second of the top four tourist draws in the state (the others being the Alamo, the Riverwalk and Six Flags Over Texas). The high-end retail stores of Calvin Klein, Neiman Marcus and Hugo Boss reside in this estimated $50 million facelift.

New owner of the Prime Outlets retail store David Lichtenstein had stated that there would be changes to the stores when he came aboard in 2003. On a trip to Venice's Piazza San Marco, he was absolutely floored by the landscape of the Italian city. Ambitious to duplicate the look of the area also known as St. Mark's Square, he set his focus on the Texas branch of his stores. He even set out to include the gondola rides. Prime Retail Outlet's vision for this project has redefined what an outlet mall should be and raised the bar for retail centers across the country.

Small and important details

From the top of the hard GRFC column covers (10 foot AFF +/-) the entire project is EIFS, utilizing similar installation methods as used in Las Vegas (think of the Venetian). The details were machined and in some cases hand carved for the final look. There are bell ringers and a 12-foot bell, 26 individual 6-foot statues, balustrade rails, medallions, figurines, balconies, shutters, columns, posts, caps and arches that were all coordinated to the intention of the drawings. The various figurines and statues required complex robotic machines for the cutting.

To duplicate all the ornate details of the Italian city, architect firm Carter Burgess worked with Johnson County Foam to brainstorm and finally create at least 120 types of moldings.

"My wife and I started this company as a hobby, 18 years ago out of our garage," says Lewis. "We now have 30 employees, 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space on five acres of land, and it's still a hobby.

"There were more than 160 shapes, different statues ... we're talking thousands and thousands of feet of EIFS. We used almost three quarters of a million board feet of foam, just our part of it."

In regards to the statues, Johnson County Foam was given three different miniature replicas of statues. Each of these replicas (roughly 21⁄2 feet tall) were shot from 20 different angles using a 3-D laser scanner. From there the fine details were hand carved into the foam. Once the model file is saved in the computer it can be scaled to almost any size and duplicated quickly. New technology has made detailed production such as this possible.

After the "blanks" (the models made of foam) have been created from the software and the sculptors have made their finishing touches, EIFS is applied to the statues. Because these are outside and exposed to the elements, the statues were meshed and basecoated at least twice, sometimes three times for durability.

The bigger picture

On a larger scope of the job, F.L. Crane and Sons was contracted to do the metal stud framing, drywall, acoustical ceiling systems, EIFS, special shapes, scaffolding, doors frames and hardware, rough carpentry and FRP. The original planning and budgeting began in March with substantial completion by October. The company added more than 165,000 square feet of retail outlet store space.

"On the very front page of Carter Burgess plans, the word ‘intent' is written," recalls Ron Molleur, vice president of F. L. Crane's Texas division. "From a contractors point of view, this is not a good thing. ‘How do I bid intent? Who is to make the final decision? What ends up out there? Are they the same?' That word ‘intent' made this job a very interesting job, because it took the whole team assembled to make that intent work. Minor details became major obstacles to overcome-but the budgets had been set and the timetable was not going to change. It had to get done."

One-hundred and fifty-foot free-standing tower for signage.

The project was one that required extremely close contact to make sure the "intent" was met and the desired effects were accomplished. F.L. Crane was met with daily snags, forcing the manpower to problem solve everyday, because answers were being made on an hour-by-hour time basis. Ever-changing working conditions of the trades working neck-to-neck, and architects drawing and blessing field changes, challenged everyone to achieve artistic interpretation. Although difficult at times, everyone had to be a committed partner, from the owner of Prime Outlets and the general contractor White Construction to various manufacturers, architects and field personnel. Beyond the constant flux, safety was put at the forefront.

"We utilized man lifts, boom lifts, tube scaffolding, rolling scaffolding, as well as our own tower scaffolding," says Molleur. "We had to scaffold a 150-foot free-standing tower all the way up, including the roof section."

He talks of days turning into nights, with the construction crew working crunch-time to get the project done on schedule. Due to the efforts of White Construction and all the suppliers involved, the strenuous deadlines were met. Dryvit's sales personnel had to make visits to the site to advise and make sure exact color matches were achieved.

All of this "art" has paid off: Nestled between Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin, the San Marcos Prime Outlets retail mall has people taking the four-hour drive from Dallas just to shop; the Dallas Morning News reported that a quarter of the shoppers are coming from Mexico. To date, the job won the ABC's "Excellence in Construction" award and the job has been profiled in several publications since its opening just before the holiday season began.

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Credits for Prime Outlet, San Marcos

Manufacturers/Products Used:
  • USG Sheetrock and acoustical ceiling systems
  • Dietrich Metal Framing
  • Georgia-Pacific DensGlass Gold
  • Dryvit (including "E" Finishes, Tuscan Glaze and related Outsulation materials)
  • Hilti products, including strut, fasteners and fire caulk
  • Fraco Scaffolding

Distributors and Suppliers:

  • Johnson County Foam supplied EIFS shapes and carvings
  • PlastrGlas Inc. for all GFRC products
  • Insulation Supply
  • Calply Materials for Dryvit

General Contractor:

  • White Construction