Mike Dokell • Division manager for commercial, residential and interior • Cherry Demolition Co.
Premium content from Houston Business Journal by Christine Hall
Born and raised in the demolition business, Mike Dokell remembers a childhood filled with watching implosions and the wrecking ball at work in the middle of the night. After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin, Dokell joined Houston-based Olshan Demolishing Co. Inc., which was founded by his great uncle in 1987. During his stint there, he rose to vice president of business development and estimating. Joining Houston’s Cherry Demolition Co. in 1999, Dokell now runs the company’s commercial, residential and interior divisions. Dokell is a former director of the National Demolition Association and remains active in national and local trade organizations.
A: I am a third-generation demolition contractor in the city of Houston. My family has been a big part of the demolition business since 1932. My great uncle founded Olshan Demolishing and my father has been a leader in the industry for decades.
Growing up, I had a natural interest in what he did, and that was wrecked buildings. I was able to watch very talented men perform the art of demolition close up. I got to see the cool stuff.
As an industry, the demolition business is no different from any other. You have all the same routine business issues, such as payroll, sales, collections and such, but you also have the part of the business that includes 500 pounds of explosives. That gives you just a little bit more to stress over.
My background in the business exposed me to some truly brilliant demolition workers and some really interesting projects. People from Houston remember some of the city’s biggest demolition projects, such as the demolitions of The Shamrock Hotel, The Lamar Hotel, Town and Country Mall and, recently, the Montague Hotel.
Q: What is the most challenging demolition you have been involved in, and why was it challenging?
A: Every project I have ever done seems simple, now. Similarly, every project I am bidding on seems simple. The most challenging demolitions are the projects going on right now, the ones where I have people and equipment in place. Each project has its own set of challenges.
A recent challenge was the demolition of downtown’s Savoy Hotel, primarily because of the condition of the building itself. The eight-story building was structurally unsound, falling down and had been declared a safety hazard. We had only a weekend to get it down and to protect adjoining structures and Metro’s light rail operations on Main Street. We could not implode the structure; instead, we took it down methodically — piece by piece. We did it successfully, but it was one of the more challenging assignments for all of us.
Q: What about the demolition business do few people know?
A: People do not know how much we have to interface with the government. We are regulated by almost everyone. On a daily basis, we communicate with several offices at the City of Houston, Harris County, the State of Texas and the U.S. government.
What people do know are only the fun things: Everyone enjoys watching a demolition. Over the years, I have talked to hundreds of “sidewalk experts” who have provided me with a wealth of ideas and advice.
Additionally, people may not recognize that we are one of the largest recyclers in the state of Texas. We also believe that “LEEDs” and green building practices are here to stay. Fortunately, we have been involved in these kinds of activities for years.
Q: Do you find your industry is prosperous when real estate is good and vice versa?
A: I believe there is a direct link between real estate and the demolition business. Over the last year and a half or so, our market has been as bleak as the overall real estate market’s performance. We feel it when residential construction is slow; we are impacted when no apartments are being built.
We’ve also see a decline when big commercial projects are postponed or canceled. This is the reason that Cherry has such a diversified base of operations. Our client base needs to be as varied as the diverse range of products and services we offer them. We also service the petrochemical market, and are one of the Gulf Coast area’s largest suppliers of recycled, crushed concrete and stabilized sand.
Q: If you were given the job of taking down the Astrodome, would you have to implode it, or take it down piece by piece?
A: I have an opinion on what to do with the Dome. Because the Rodeo/Texans can’t use it, and due to the building’s design and current condition, it would be nearly impossible to do anything with the structure. I say wreck it. And, yes, I would want to be involved in the project.
Most probably, explosives would be involved in the demolition to some extent. But, there are many features of the structure that would have to be taken down conventionally. The eventual demolition of the Dome would be quite a show, and we at Cherry would love to be part of it.