When Gantt Huberman Architects was sold to a New York state-based company last year, principals on both sides assured clients that the brand of the legendary Charlotte firm wouldn't change.
With a reputation for specializing in education and civic projects, it’s a brand that built many of Charlotte's landmarks: ImaginOn, the UNC Charlotte Center City building, the Transamerica Square building and Charlotte Transportation Center, among others.
The firm, founded in 1971 by former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt and business partner Jeff Huberman, who died earlier this year, intentionally set out to be part of the growth and development of the city's uptown area and beyond.
Don't look for that to change now that the firm is a division of Bergmann Associates, Gantt told clients and well-wishers during an open house on Thursday at the firm’s North Tryon Street office.
In fact, Gantt said, merging with the 375-person Bergmann Associates, with 13 offices in seven states in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Florida, gives the 42-year-old Charlotte firm reach into new areas. This includes taking on retail and manufacturing projects -- two of Bergmann's specialties. In turn, Bergmann was drawn to the Charlotte firm’s background in K-12 and higher education projects.
“Rather than saying all good things come to an end, we have just re-energized ourselves,” Gantt told reception attendees before introducing Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Bergmann Associates.
“Gantt Huberman Architects and Bergmann have formed this association, this partnership, and we think we can now bring an even greater and higher level of architectural service to this region.”
Mitchell, 61 and Gantt, 70, talked to the Observer about how the two firms connected, and the types of projects they foresee working on in Charlotte. Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Will this firm feel the same in Charlotte, or are you branching out into areas that Gantt Huberman Architects has not traditionally been in?
Gantt: I think one of the things that attracted us was that there were opportunities with Bergmann Associates that GHA probably never would have engaged in. They do a lot of work in retail (including Walmart stores and Wegmans Food Markets.) They lot of work in research and manufacturing. These are areas that we have never been in. We think the opportunities in research, retail, will make us even more attractive.
We’ve already seen a benefit of that. Over these last 10 months that we’ve been a firm, I’m talking to and going with Tom and others in the firm to deal with new clients who have been in this community for years. They see me showing up on their doorstep: Harv, what are u doing? You're an institutional education guy. Here you’re talking to a research company doing manufacturing or process-oriented facilities. I say yeah, but I’ve got the team now.
Mitchell: What we don’t want to do is distract the firm, the employees from what they do that’s special in terms of the institution of higher education, the K-through-12 schools. We want to make sure that the service to the current clients and past clients is kept intact, and try to complement it, as Harvey said.
How did this connection come to be?
Mitchell: About three years ago, we had a strategy to locate to the North Carolina area. We felt that it was a growth area. And we coupled that with the desire to increase our presence in the higher education market. We retained a (search) firm. The name Gantt Huberman came up, in Charlotte, which was a great market. And we just made a call to Harvey one day. We understood that even though Jeff and Harvey weren’t immediately thinking of selling, they were getting to that point in their career when they needed to do so. It took maybe a year and a half to get comfortable enough to decide to move ahead with an acquisition.
To Gantt: Can you talk about this firm’s impact on Charlotte? What has guided you these 42 years, and how will that continue?
Gantt: When I came to town I worked at Odell Associates, which at that time was the No. 1 premier firm in Charlotte., and met Jeff, he was also working there. We both worked in the design department. I got the chance to work on really amazing projects, some big projects for the city of Charlotte. When Jeff and I decided to form the firm in 1971, we said we wanted to have an impact on Charlotte. We wanted to build nice schools, we wanted to build institution buildings, we wanted to build buildings for the city. I had the opporutnity to do that.We just always felt if the city was kind to us in projects we got over the years, we ought to ask our folks to give back to the city. We paid our employees for four hours a month so every person in the firm could get engaged in some community project they wanted to. So I’d like to think we were a community-oriented firm.
What does the Charlotte economy look like for architects, and for this firm in particular? Are you still seeing the effects of the recession?
Gantt: We had about two rough years, 2009 and 10. A lot of our clients, particularly those who were building school buildings weren't doing much in that arena for a while. But we think that’s loosening up. We’re getting much more inquiries, opportunities to look at projects.
Mitchell: Coming to Charlotte and North Carolina, a state of growth, a state of a great education system, a great tradition of welcoming manufacturers and industry to the state, an attractive workforce and such, it's got to be a sure thing for us to be successful here over time. Maybe the economy hasn't fully recovered, but we do think this is probably one of the hotter markets that we’re in. Once it does recover, and they understand Gantt Huberman and the Bergmann complement to that, we’re going to have significant success.
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