Joe the Builder
Since then, O'Neal Construction, Inc., has worked on more than 1,000 projects. Its buildings are woven into the city's fabric. Everyone who's climbed the circular concrete stairs of the Power Center, admired the restored Michigan Theater, or browsed the locally owned shops at Kerrytown has been touched by an O'Neal project. O'Neal renovated the Hands-On Museum, the First National Building, and Burton Tower and built the city's main fire station. The condos at Sloan Plaza and Ashley Mews are OCI's work. And in the last few years, the company has reshaped Ann Arbor's vertical profile.
"Clearly the skyline has changed," O'Neal says, "and we helped it change." His company built the ten-story Zaragon Place and fourteen-story Zaragon West student high-rises and is at work on the Ann Arbor City Apartments at First and Washington. The firm didn't bid on any of those jobs: in every case, the developers came to O'Neal to manage their projects.
That doesn't surprise developer Bill Martin, who first met O'Neal when he was trying to get his first commercial building under way about forty years ago.
"I was very, very young at that time, just trying to launch a real estate career," Martin recalls. "I needed a builder to build a building on South U, and I got the quote from another builder, and it just wouldn't work ... Somebody just mentioned a guy that had an office out on North Main Street--a little old house that's since been torn down--Joe O'Neal.