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November 1, 2012
DCI Engineers, a Seattle-based structural and civil engineering firm, is expanding by buying M.R. Richards Engineering in Eugene, Ore., and by opening an office in Irvine, Calif.
The structural engineering firm is DCI's first acquisition in its 24-year history, said Vice President Mark D. Aden.
The goal is to get more projects in that area, where the University of Oregon and other large public clients such as Lane Community College often use local consultants.
Aden said DCI's Portland office has been working with M.R. Richards on the new Student Recreation Center at UO but, “It's been hard for us to get a lot of work in the Springfield-Eugene market. It's a very local market.”
The four-person Eugene office will be known as MRR+DCI Engineers. It will be headed by Mark Richards, who owned M.R. Richards. He worked with several DCI partners years ago in Seattle, and also worked at what is now Magnusson Klemencic Associates on Two Union Square.
DCI did not release the terms of the acquisition, which was completed last month.
Aden said it should help DCI gain market share in Oregon's educational, medical and commercial sectors.
“We definitely expect to grow the office,” he said. “We expect that that market will continue to recover as the broader economy does.”
DCI has projects throughout the country, but works primarily in the West, Southwest and Canada. It also has offices in Spokane Portland, San Diego and Austin, Texas.
DCI will open the Irvine office today, headed by partner Damon Smith, who will continue to oversee the civil engineering division in Spokane and Seattle. Harry Jones II, a partner in the San Diego office, will oversee structural engineering in Irvine.
Aden said he expects the office to grow from a staff of three to 10 within a year.
The firm already has quite a bit of work in the apartment and hospitality sectors in the Irvine, San Diego and Los Angeles areas, he said. Projects under construction include Irvine on Park Place Apartments in Irvine, Marriott Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites in Tustin, LA Live Marriott in Los Angeles, and The Village at Santa Monica in Santa Monica. Completed projects include Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, Calif.
DCI started to see growth in Southern California about a year ago, Aden said. “There were just a lot of opportunities we weren't able to capitalize on” without the new office, he said.
DCI's staff today is 160. It had about 185 employees in 2008, and dropped to 110 in 2009.
Aden said the firm has been growing steadily for two years.
He said DCI is beginning to see growth in housing and hospitality projects in Bellevue and Seattle, and signs of office development in Seattle.
In Bellevue, DCI is working on an office project for Schnitzer West at 415 106th Ave. N.E. and on the second phase of a 19-story apartment tower for Su Development called Soma Towers. In Seattle, it is working on an apartment tower for Wood Partners at Cedar Street and Third Avenue.
DCI's Northwest projects under construction include the Bullitt Center in Seattle; Washington State University Northside Residence Hall in Pullman; and Oregon State University Bookstore in Corvallis, Ore. Completed projects include The Bravern in Bellevue and Washington State University's Martin Stadium expansion in Pullman.
Mark Cameron, a planning and marketing consultant for architecture, engineering and construction companies, said some regions of the country are seeing new projects, but not all. “There are a lot of places in the country that are still really on the mat. There isn't much work.”
The San Francisco Bay Area is one place that's thriving, powered by tech firms such as Google and Facebook, Cameron said. “I think it's the hottest real estate market in the U.S. right now, maybe with D.C. neck and neck with it,” he said.
Aden said his firm has always worked in the Bay Area, and has a number of projects under way there.
It is looking for “potential opportunities” in San Francisco, but he declined to say whether that would involve an acquisition or new office.
“There's just a lot of economic activity in the technology sector and that's creating a lot of growth in the economy there,” he said.
Cameron, a partner in San Francisco-based Cameron MacAllister Group, said the Los Angeles housing market is recovering and “there is a tremendous amount of housing work starting.” Most of it is market-rate, but cities are funding some affordable housing. This follows the closure of redevelopment programs throughout California in a move to help the state address its financial issues.
“LA is coming back, but it's not the robust growth that we're seeing in the San Francisco area,” Cameron said.
The Irvine-Orange County area was hit hard with bad mortgages in the downturn, he said. The housing market there is starting to rebound, but not with the strength of LA.
Cameron said Eugene-Springfield is a small market that is isolated enough from Portland to have its “own little economic area.”
“It would not be easy for a non local firm to work in the region,” he said. “Because it's isolated, people work with people in the region.”
Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.