LUXE BUS TO KEEP POP ROY­ALS ROLLING

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Ben Cran­dell | Staff writer

A mil­lion-dol­lar hide­away is be­ing built for Bey­oncé and Jay-Z on a non­de­script side street in Fort Lauderdale, where work­ers are pulling 20-hour shifts to meet the pop-cul­ture power cou­ple’s fa­mously high stan­dards — even when it comes to a tour bus.

Sit­ting be­hind a small ware­house near Com­mer­cial Boule­vard, a half-block from Lock­hart Sta­dium, the richly ap­pointed 45-foot bus, fur­nished with a queen bed fit for Queen Bey and a power sup­ply usu­ally found on a megay­acht, will be a home away from home dur­ing the duo’s na­tion­wide On the Run II Tour, which hits Hard Rock Sta­dium on Aug. 31. Price tag: $1.1 mil­lion.

With ply­wood ceil­ings and floors, ca­bles and con­duit snaking in full view, the shower and royal throne unin-

stalled, and the pri­vate king­dom still await­ing its queen bed, it was hard to look at the bus this week and imag­ine that Marco Ciotti and his five-man crew at Ul­tra Coach Inc. will meet their dead­line. The bus must be in New Jersey by Aug. 1, in time for an OTR II con­cert at the Mead­ow­lands the next day.

But in­side the bustling ware­house, both the stress level and con­fi­dence are high.

“The show must go on. The artists need their bus, and that’s what we do,” Ciotti says, ac­knowl­edg­ing that work will con­tinue un­til the last minute. “We are un­der such a tight win­dow that we’re al­ready pro­ject­ing that a small crew will be rid­ing with the bus to do the fi­nal touches be­fore it gets to New Jersey. I’m lit­er­ally go­ing to have to be fin­ish­ing it as we’re driv­ing.”

The rock-star life

Ciotti, who owns a res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion com­pany in Fort Lauderdale, is the founder and lead de­signer for Ul­tra Coach. The com­pany started out build­ing ob­ser­va­tion decks on buses for NASCAR fans and rac­ing teams, and about 30 months ago moved into retrofitting and leas­ing buses to mu­si­cal acts. Clients have ranged from Dierks Bent­ley and Ke­sha to An­drea Bo­celli and Ed Sharpe and the Mag­netic Ze­ros.

Leas­ing buses to rock stars — who will spare no ex­pense, lit­er­ally, to make it to the show on time — is a unique busi­ness, says Ciotti, who has been forced to ship parts, and him­self, across the coun­try at a mo­ment’s no­tice to fix prob­lems big and small.

“Pil­lows. Pil­lows are a big thing. We did In­digo Girls a long time ago, one of our first tours, and she needed a spe­cific pil­low. And we got it wrong, and they flipped,” he says, laugh­ing.

With four buses on the road, Ciotti has stepped in as driver, me­chanic, maid and jan­i­tor, the last role made worse if some­one has bro­ken the code of the road.

“If one guy takes a No 2 on the bus, some artists will kick him straight out of the bus. It can­not hap­pen. It’s a sin,” Ciotti says, not laugh­ing.

That ex­pe­ri­ence cre­ates bonds among those who live it. When Stormtroop­ers Transportation, a Los An­ge­les-based leas­ing com­pany that has worked with Kanye West, Blake Shelton and the Rolling Stones, got a re­quest for a new bus for the OTR II tour, they rec­om­mended Ul­tra Coach, which spe­cial­izes in a mod­ern, Euro­pean de­sign that Bey­oncé and Jay-Z de­sired.

Ciotti is all in on the project: He’s sold the four buses and got­ten out of the leas­ing busi­ness to fo­cus on de­sign­ing and build­ing them.

In­te­rior depart­ment

The com­pleted por­tion of the bus is a study in un­der­stated luxury, much of it cov­ered in a rich brown wood-grain lam­i­nate. The gen­tle curves of the walls of the bus are re­peated on all edges and open­ings through­out the space, a sub­tle, sooth­ing touch.

The bus is ca­pa­ble of sleeping 12, but this one is con­fig­ured with four stacks of up­per and lower bunks, each space 77 inches long, lead­ing to a pri­vate lounge in the back where a sofa will con­vert into a queen bed.

Bill Strange, who is in charge of build­ing the in­te­rior of the bus, came to Ul­tra Coach from Nashville, where he worked for top cus­tom-de­sign and leas­ing com­pa­nies such as Hem­phill Broth­ers, whose cus­tomer list in­cludes Kenny Ch­es­ney, Tay­lor Swift, Garth Brooks, Pres­i­dent Obama, Oprah Win­frey and Pope Bene­dict XVI.

Ciotti says that while Bey­oncé and Jay-Z did not re­quest any­thing un­usual, the job came with im­plicit con­di­tions.

“From what I un­der­stand, they’re both pretty de­mand­ing. There’s a cer­tain stan­dard that they ex­pect,” Ciotti says.

The pres­sure of the client and the dead­line does not bother Strange.

“I’ve been in it 25 years, so I’m not in­tim­i­dated by any­thing,” Strange says. “We will make it. It looks like a lot [of work left to do], but at the end, it’ll all come to­gether.”

He says Ciotti’s de­signs are un­like any­thing he’s done be­fore.

“What Marco has done here is … taken it to the next level. He’s kind of build­ing the bus of the fu­ture,” Strange says. “New de­signs that he has that no­body else has, the way it’s coming out, as far as the lam­i­nate and the cre­ativ­ity … he’s us­ing, is just awe­some.”

Part of the cargo area is de­voted to a sys­tem of three marine-grade bat­ter­ies and in­vert­ers that in an emer­gency can power air con­di­tion­ing, satel­lite, TV and any­thing else on the bus for as long as 12 hours.

“This is what they put on megay­achts,” Ciotti says. “No mat­ter what, if some­thing breaks down, they are safe and they’re com­fort­able. That’s pri­or­ity one, mak­ing sure the artist is com­fort­able and happy.”

Bus is a rolling green room

Be­gin­ning with the shell, the in­dus­try stan­dard for build­ing such a bus is 10 weeks, and Ciotti is used to un­usual de­mands: He’s built a bus with a sound stu­dio in the back for a rap artist, and fig­ured out a way to safely dis­play a sa­mu­rai sword above the bed (on a mov­ing bus) for an­other per­former.

. Bey­oncé and Jay-Z or­der a new bus with every tour, he says.

This is all the more re­mark­able given how spar­ingly it will be used. Not only is the tour just two months long, but A-lis­ters such as Bey­oncé and Jay-Z fly to most of their shows and stay in ho­tels, the bus serv­ing as a very ex­pen­sive green room, merely a space to re­lax be­fore and af­ter the show.

But, for Ciotti, it’s like build­ing them a home. Amid all the chaos in the ware­house and on the bus, he’s ex­am­in­ing the lit­tle things, such as the align­ment of grain in two pieces of lam­i­nate.

He’ll prob­a­bly be do­ing it un­til he gets to New Jersey. He and a tech­ni­cian will be on board when it leaves, no later than 6 a.m. July 31, with a full set of tools and any parts they think will be handy.

“I per­son­ally do the ride, the com­pleted ride along, every time,” he says. “I lay in the beds. I look up. I go left. I go right. I sit in the back. I use ev­ery­thing. I sit on the toi­let. I lis­ten. I look. I study. I need to see that ev­ery­thing moves and func­tions and there’s no hang-ups.”

JIM RASSOL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Marco Ciotti, owner of Ul­tra Coach, a Fort Lauderdale firm that builds tour buses for mu­si­cians, is cre­at­ing a $1.1 mil­lion bus that will act as a rolling green room for Bey­oncé and Jay-Z dur­ing a two-month tour.

GETTY IM­AGES/FILE

Jay-Z and Bey­oncé

JIM RASSOL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

“The artists need their bus, and that’s what we do,” Marco Ciotti says. “We are un­der such a tight win­dow that we’re al­ready pro­ject­ing that a small crew will be rid­ing with the bus to do the fi­nal touches be­fore it gets to New Jersey.”

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