Quinn Evans Grows
Richard Hess says the news felt almost "too good to be true.
by Patrick Dunn
From the June, 2019 issue
Last November, Ford announced that Quinn Evans Architects would lead design work for its restoration of Detroit's Michigan Central Station. For more than thirty years, the vacant tower in Corktown had stood as an icon of the city's decay.
Hess, who heads the firm's Detroit office, was elated. But the good news brought back memories of an earlier disappointment.
In the early 2010s the station's then-owners, the Moroun family, hired Quinn Evans to do a structural assessment. But aside from installing a freight elevator, they had ignored the architects' recommendations.
Now Hess is excited to help guide Ford's $350 million restoration. "For me personally and for many at Quinn Evans, this is a jewel," he says. "It's the shining star and the epitome of Detroit's revitalization."
Founded in Ann Arbor in 1984 by Mike Quinn and Dave Evans, the firm has touched buildings all over town, from restoring the Michigan Theater in the 1980s to reconfiguring the State Theatre last year. But its biggest projects are elsewhere, including multiple state capitol buildings and Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.
Hess and Ann Dilcher, who heads the Ann Arbor office, are among the third generation of owners. President Larry Barr, who works out of D.C., is second-generation: he started with Quinn and Evans at their previous firm in 1983, and was one of the first to buy shares in the early 1990s.
The founders' foresight helped Quinn Evans weather Evans' sudden death from a heart attack in 1998. "There was this longevity and continuity thing that they just always thought about from the beginning," Barr says, "that somehow the firm was going to outlive them."
Barr succeeded Quinn as president in 2011. By the time of his death last year, Quinn had reduced his workload and stepped back to a project principal role.
Dilcher remembers Quinn as an architect "really interested in the smallest detail." He also impressed upon her the importance of "how architecture relates to people."
sort of mentors stay with you long after someone leaves an office or passes on," says Hess. Quinn is "very much still there for me ... I can hear him in the back of my head."
Quinn Evans remained a mostly two-office operation until the Detroit office opened a decade ago. As the city's revitalization accelerates, it now has a staff of nineteen.
The firm grew even more with the acquisitions of Baltimore-based Cho Benn Holback and Associates (CBH) in 2017 and Richmond, VA-based BCWH in 2018. Quinn Evans gained over sixty staff between the two, bringing the total to 170.
Barr says Quinn Evans sometimes got calls from other firms interested in selling but was "pretty dismissive" until CBH called in 2016. The firms had competed for projects and respected each other's work, he explains, and Quinn Evans had the "financial wherewithal," thanks to a renovation of the National Air and Space Museum. Then BCWH called as well.
"The bottom line is we were fortunate to be in a position where some of these firms were transitioning from original ownership to second generation and needed a little oomph to get over that line," Barr says. "We provide that oomph, and with that we can increase the firm's capabilities a significant amount."
Along with growing its staff, Quinn Evans has widened its scope. Once focused mainly on historical preservation and restoration, it has branched into new construction. Its redesign of the Garden Theater block on Woodward combines adaptive reuse and historic rehab with new infill buildings.
Asked if he has any desire for continued expansion, Barr issues a definitive no. "We're tired," he laughs. "If I went to the CFO and the director of IT and the chief marketing officer and said, 'Hey, we're going to do this again,' they would probably kill me."
[Originally published in June, 2019.]
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