'Big Mac' Attack Had Local Ties
GRAND RAPIDS — In the fall of 1957, as the day approached for the opening of what was then simply called the “Straits of Mackinac bridge,” Grand Rapids officials and business leaders met to brainstorm ways to snag some of the tourist traffic the bridge was expected to funnel through Michigan.
But Grand Rapids businessman Harold DeYoung wasn’t among them. He may well have been working that day — at the bridge.
DeYoung and his partners were the owners of Omega Construction Co., the only Grand Rapids company among 20 or so that held the major contracts for design and construction of the $100 million bridge. According to “Mighty Mac: The Official Picture History of the Mackinac Bridge,” published by Wayne State Press in 1958, Omega had a $232,500 contract for construction of the administration and maintenance buildings at the north end of the bridge.
DeYoung said that does not sound like a big project today, but it was at the time. The Omega contract was the sixth-largest contract on the bridge, but dwarfed by the $43.9 million contract held by the American Bridge Division of the United States Steel Corp. of Pittsburgh, and the $26.3 million contract held by Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp. of New York, which put in the foundations and piers. DeYoung said Omega also had some subcontracts for work out on the bridge itself.
At the time, according to DeYoung, the Mackinac Bridge project was said to be the largest construction project in the world in terms of total cost. The bridge, which is estimated to weigh slightly more than 1 million tons, took 42 months to build, beginning in 1954. At five miles, it is the third-longest suspension bridge in the world.
The construction project was “huge,” said DeYoung, and the excitement associated with it was something all contractors felt.
He retired long ago, and his partners have all passed away, but DeYoung still has vivid memories of the many weeks he spent at the site. He recalls watching the marine contractor sinking the caissons in the deep water of the Straits, down into the bedrock below. The caissons are massive, double-walled cylinders that form the bases for the two main towers that reach 552 feet above the water.
He also has vivid memories of later “walking the beams to get out there” when his crews were building the electrical transformer decks for Blumenthal-Kahn Electric Co. Inc., of Baltimore, which had the main contract for lighting on the bridge.
There was nothing on the beams to hold on to, DeYoung said, and the tricky thing was little studs sticking up out of the beams — which could snag pants cuffs and trip the unwary.
“It wouldn’t meet today’s (safety) standards,” quipped DeYoung.
Another Grand Rapids area company that was an Omega subcontractor on the bridge was Haven-Busch, a Grandville steel fabrication firm that closed in 1988.
Omega Construction Co. was founded in the late 1940s by DeYoung and a few partners. “We just picked an abstract name,” he said. Most of the firm’s projects were not in the Grand Rapids area, although it did build the Grand Valley Armory in Wyoming, the Kent Intermediate School District facilities and some projects at the new Grand Valley State College. Omega had a number of projects on Mackinac Island and others in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula. Crews worked on the Kincheloe and K.I. Sawyer Air Force bases in the UP, built hospitals in Petoskey and Big Rapids, and a high school in Indiana.
By about 1990, Omega was doing a lot of work in Florida and Texas, and it was then that DeYoung decided to phase himself out of the business. His son, Chuck DeYoung, took over as head of the company. In 2006, it was sold to Frank Miceli and Roy Couch.
Omega Construction Co. Inc. is still in operation and still based in the area, with corporate offices on 28th Street in Cascade Township.
Miceli said the company today, which has six full-time employees, is focused on commercial and multi-family residential construction. Two current projects are the 180-unit Wildwood Estates in Ludington and the 250-unit Arbors of Traverse, in Traverse City. Both are a combination of condos and rental units.
Miceli had previously worked in real estate and risk management at Tower Automotive, and had been with Alticor before that. He said his professional experience has been in project management, financial management and real estate. Couch, his partner, had been at Omega for several years before he and Miceli bought the company.
Miceli and Couch are proud of Omega Construction Co.’s role in one of the most famous construction projects in the world. That is evident by the large photos of the Mackinac Bridge on the walls of their corporate offices today.