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Storied architecture firms expand reach with recent merger

The recent merger of two architectural firms unites a number of the state’s most storied names of architecture. Biloxi-based Guild Hardy Architects, one of the state’s fastest-growing firms, and Eley Associates/Architects, a venerable Jackson firm, formed Eley Guild Hardy Architects. The new firm now has 16 registered architects and two licensed civil engineers on its staff of 72, who are holding down the Biloxi office and two Jackson offices.

“I’m very excited about it,” says Jim Eley, whose firm’s experience includes landmark buildings in Jackson and on the campuses of several state universities. “I’ve been operating without partners for a long time, and I’m glad to have them.”

David Hardy says the primary reason for the merger from Guild Hardy’s standpoint is to have long-term sustainability for the rapidly growing firm.

“We wanted more geographical and marketing diversity, more markets to work in to better enable us to withstand downturns in the economy,” he said. “On the Coast, half of our market radius is water so we needed to expand north.”

Guild Hardy expanded north when it opened a Jackson office during the busy time following Hurricane Katrina, but it was difficult to break into that market with the area’s strong competition and well-established firms.

“Post-Katrina, we needed help to serve our clients in South Mississippi with the growth spurt we were having,” Hardy said. “We couldn’t get more architects here, so we decided to open a Jackson office. We had relationships in Jackson from Mississippi State University, particularly with our firm’s Joey Crane.”

Crane suggested opening the Jackson office, an idea Hardy said he thought was “so crazy it just might work.” And it did. With leased space downtown and some seasoned professionals located there, the staff quickly grew to 10.

“The Jackson office helped with rebuilding on the Coast. They were a major production outpost for us,” he added.

The idea of a merger began to take shape when Guild Hardy held a planning retreat with a consultant from the Pyramid Group. With a mission statement, five-year vision plan and one-year strategic plan, things coalesced for the alliance. Two of the principals, Taylor Guild and David Hardy, worked with Jim Eley to make it happen.

“We refer to him as the ‘Godfather of Architecture.’ He’s enigmatic of the profession,” Hardy says. “He designed the School of Architecture at Mississippi State that we all attended.”

For his part, Eley laughs at the moniker. “I’m certainly not the ‘Godfather,’” he says, “but the MSU School of Architecture design was a major project for my firm.”

He especially looks forward to mentoring the young architects of the combined firms, something he’s been doing for years. In fact, Taylor Guild, as a new MSU graduate, worked for Eley. The Jackson architect couldn’t persuade him to stay and Guild returned to the Coast to work in the firm started in 1953 by his father, W. Taylor Guild III.

Currently, other principals joining the merger from the Guild Hardy firm are Joseph B. Crain, Mark E. Lishen and Stephen A. Stojcich.

“I also look forward to putting a lot of that energy in Jackson and Central Mississippi,” Eley said. “They have a healthy, open culture with younger people participating more. That brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It will be positive.”

Eley’s firm started in 1975. He says the merger also brings more depth of staff, managerial support and more technology on a couple of points.

Hardy says, “We bring more advanced, cutting-edge technology in the way we use it. It’s an opportunity to add some technical capabilities.”

He also feels a real synergy in the merger. “It gave our Jackson location a real purpose and future,” he said. “The staff there wondered what would happen after the Katrina bubble was over.”

Guild Hardy has been active in public projects with education, the military and the state. It is currently handling the $92-million restoration/expansion of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. Now, it will also be involved with university projects. Eley Associates has designed projects for state universities and teamed with other Jackson firms on major state projects.

Eley anticipates being involved with some Coast projects now, extending his geographical reach, too. “Guild Hardy has always focused on sustainability, and I like that,” he said. “I’m very happy about the merger.”

In early 2009, the two Jackson locations will combine their offices into an 83-year-old landmark building in downtown Jackson. The historic old bank building at the corner of Capitol and Congress streets is undergoing a $1.1-million renovation. Built in 1924 in the neoclassical revival style, the impressive structure is being renovated to an environmentally-friendly design based upon LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

“It’s a spectacular building,” says Eley. “I’ve always thought it was the most beautiful building in downtown Jackson.”

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


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