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Architects moving cautiously with projects, watching financing

Some of the state’s leading architectural firms are keeping a cautious eye on the troubled economy while continuing to focus on their diversified projects.

“We are beginning to see a concern being expressed by our private sector clients,” said Robert E. Luke, president of Luke, Peterson, Kaye Architects of Meridian. “The primary issue is the financing commitments. Projects that would typically be financed by private developers are less likely to be financed with the current crisis.”

The firm’s public sector and long-term private clients, however, are moving on with their planning and construction projects. He says most clients have a “measured concern.”

To deal with this concern, the firm is preparing the staff to be more accountable and cost conscious. “We are taking a strong look at the projects that are money makers and the losers,” he said. “We are then attempting to determine what we can do to improve our decision making and processes to improve profitability.”

They’re also staying in close contact with clients to inform them of the firm’s efforts to carefully monitor costs and potential overruns that could have negative impacts.

“We have always tried to mix our project types and clients to prepare for the uncertainty of the economy,” Luke said. “Today, it would be safe to say that the focus on the mix is being watched a little closer than usual.”

Some of the Meridian firm’s current projects include banks, medical facilities, police headquarters, a residence hall for Mississippi State University, a new administration and business center for an electric utility, and military projects.

“Almost all of our current projects have a strong commitment to sustainable design, which is part of our mission,” Luke said. “We find that most of our clients are supportive and share that concern. It provides long term benefits and savings that are critical with the current state of the economy and funding of projects.”

Dean & Dean Architects of Jackson has some projects in a holding pattern as they wait on commercial lenders in the private sector.

“We had expected some to move forward by now but they are delayed,” says Richard Dean, president of the firm his father started 60 years ago. “They might have had funding from one source that reneged and are having to look for other sources of financing, and some that might have been available in the past are now frozen.”

Still, Dean is optimistic with the amount of work the firm has due to their diversification in healthcare, correctional, education and large scale institutional and commercial design. That diversity includes the second phase of the Renaissance Lifestyle Center in Ridgeland; the west tower on Baptist Hospital’s main campus in Jackson; the new Forrest County jail; and a multi-purpose center for Hinds Community College’s Rankin Campus.

Hattiesburg architect Larry Albert says he’s fortunate to be located in that city. “We find ourselves somewhat insulated from the national economy here,” he said. “We have not been affected so far in our firm, which we take as a blessing and hope we do not slow down.”

Larry Albert Associates is continually working to get new projects and is currently working on the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library and Museum in Biloxi after completing the renovation of Davis’ home, Beauvoir. Other projects include the Forrest County FEMA Shelter, rehabilitation of the old Hattiesburg High School along with several churches and private projects.

Robert Farr, president of the Cook, Douglass, Farr, Lemons firm in Jackson, thinks the state of the economy has not been determined yet but fear and the credit crunch are causing people to re-think their projects.

“Our attitude is one of concern and the cost of money if you can get it,” he said. “It hasn’t affected our work yet but we’re cautious. We also see that construction is in an inflationary state with the ever increasing cost of all raw materials. We are watching that carefully, and it will have an impact on future developments.”

He also observes a tremendous need for development, especially in projects to reduce the use of energy.

“We’re proceeding cautiously with purchases and haven’t hired anyone new even though the business is there,” Farr said.

The firm is an institutional practice currently working on two projects at the University of Mississippi — the Research Park with the Howorth firm in Oxford and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence; a baseball stadium at Purdue University; and military bases in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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