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Archive for Sunday, September 26, 1999

ARCHITECTS GO WHERE CLIENTS ARE

September 26, 1999

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Architecture firms are building on their success by adding services outside of town.

Topeka -- Sitting on the steps of the Kansas Capitol, Kim Rivera is at home with her work.

A former preservation architect with the Kansas State Historical Society, Rivera is leading a team of 16 consultants on a $500,000 preservation assessment of the Statehouse, a project that could lead to 10 years of study, design and construction-document work.

Good work for a Lawrence-based architectural firm.

"We're definitely interested in the long-term relationship on this building," said Rivera, who's been with Treanor Architects since April. "We're in this for the long haul."

Rivera, one of seven Treanor employees working out of an office with a view of the Statehouse, is part of a growing trend among Lawrence architectural firms to seek, secure and expand out-of-town work by opening offices outside of Lawrence.

Each of the three largest Lawrence-based firms say sales are growing at least 20 percent a year, most of it on projects outside of Lawrence.

Treanor's Topeka office, which opened early this year, already is working on nearly $50 million worth of jail and courthouse projects in Lyon, Butler and Riley counties, plus a $13 million "living learning center" at Washburn University in Topeka.

Glenn Livingood Penzler, based at 1001 N.H., is using a 2-year-old office in Kansas City, Mo. to handle 50 ongoing projects, including $11.5 million in new construction and expansions for the Paola school district.

And Gould Evans Affiliates, 706 Mass., is continuing its torrid growth by adding to a client list that already includes Major League Baseball and AMC Theaters. Gould Evans has grown between 30 percent and 50 percent a year since 1993, and now has 11 offices in the United States and Canada.

Born 25 years ago around the corner from Liberty Hall, the firm will generate nearly $30 million in revenues this year on $5 billion worth of construction, renovation and planning projects in the United States, South America and Europe.

The architects are going where the action is.

"The market in Lawrence is limited," said David Evans, a founding principal of the firm. "This isn't New York City."

Growing market

Opening new offices -- or merging with existing ones -- makes sense for architects looking to expand their client bases, said Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

While technology and communications continue to improve, he said, clients still demand one-on-one contact when they're working on multimillion-dollar projects. That means opening offices in other towns.

The institute's surveys back up the expansion trend. The number of firms with more than 20 employees has quadrupled during the past decade, and Baker said he suspects many firms have branched out beyond their own city limits to follow clients whose bases also are expanding.

More than 80 percent of an architect's work comes from repeat business, he said, and smart architects keep their clients happy.

"Unless you're a world-renowned architect, they want to be able to call you into a meeting, or have you at the site, or get you on a local call," Baker said. "It's still fundamentally a local business in that sense."

Staying local, going global

Evans and Bob Gould started their business in 1974. The two fraternity brothers were teaching architecture at Kansas University, then followed their dreams to establish a private firm in Lawrence.

Through aggressive marketing, repeat business and riding a strong national economy, today Gould Evans has 255 employees working out of offices in Lawrence; Overland Park; Kansas City; Philadelphia; Tampa, Fla.; San Antonio, Tex.; Denver; Phoenix; Seattle and two in Canada: Vancouver and Toronto.

Evans said the firm was "actively pursuing" more affiliates, likely on the East or West coasts. Engineering, graphic design and interior remodeling are among the new services being considered by the firm. Already, it has coordinated architectural services for the planned Power and Light District in Kansas City, Mo., served as baseball consultant for the Disney Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., and designed the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"We wanted to get to the size where we could compete for and provide services on a large scale," Evans said. "We've done that."

Down the street at Glenn Livingood Penzler, principal Dale Glenn is working with 35 employees, which includes the seven in a 10th-floor office in Kansas City, Mo.

A decade ago the firm had only eight employees.

The firm, founded in 1957, no longer is a small business, which Glenn considers as anything with less than $2 million in annual revenues.

The Kansas City office has boosted the firm's client count by about 25 percent. Among its recent projects is the $4 million renovation of the Truman Memorial building in Independence, Mo.

Looking for more

"We know there's a lot of competition in Lawrence, which is wonderful. It's healthy for everybody," Glenn said. "This just gives us an opportunity to look at projects on a more regional basis."

Treanor Architects grew out of necessity.

From a business that started in 1981 at Michael Treanor's Lawrence home, the firm has grown to employ a staff of three dozen people in four locations. Treanor's headquarters are at 110 McDonald Drive. In 1997, he opened a Kansas City office. This year, he set up shops in Frisco, Tex., and Topeka.

The new offices enable the firm to expand its expertise in student housing and judicial-related projects, he said, while boosting the bottom line. Total revenues have increased 20 percent a year for each of the past five years.

As with his Lawrence-based counterparts, Treanor is building expertise and revenues through expansion and client proximity.

"We never would have gotten the Washburn project without being in Topeka," said Treanor, referring to the $13 million student, academic and service building scheduled for completion in 2001. "A local presence is mandatory."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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