Omaha-grown Alvine and Associates is juggling 175 local engineering projects at the moment. It said it did business last year in 34 states, has expanded to 130 employees, and has among its 600 active jobs across the country a Miami office tower set to stretch 80 stories.
Yet many Omahans likely hadn’t heard of the 55-year-old firm until the past several months — and the recent limelight had nothing to do with a busy portfolio.
Thrusting Alvine into the news was that its home of three decades was one of the century-old buildings targeted for demolition in a plan tied to expansion of Omaha Performing Arts’ Holland Center campus and proposed downtown HDR high-rise.
Though OPA and HDR both scrapped their visions, Alvine has decided to stay the course that those plans set into motion for the company.
The privately held firm founded by Ray Alvine and now led by sons Doug and Steve told The World-Herald it will put up for sale its current corporate base at 11th and Douglas Streets and relocate to a new headquarters at 12th and Cass Streets.
Construction is to begin yet this year on the new $15.5 million office, retail and apartment structure to be built in partnership with Lanoha Development.
Just a stroll from the College World Series ballfield and CenturyLink Center, the five-story building is expected to raise Alvine’s visibility and bring more bustle to north downtown Omaha.
“We love where we’re at, the character and history,” Chief Operations Officer Brant Yantzer said of Alvine’s current 125-year-old digs. “Yet we’re excited to move to a new facility more conducive to modern engineering. With everything, you evolve with change.”
Thoughts of a move had been percolating for years, as Alvine lowered cubicle dividers and did what was possible to create a collaborative, open floor plan in which today’s engineers and designers thrive. But permanent beams, low ceilings, a lack of natural light and uneven floors limited any major updating.
Yantzer said the maze of nooks and crannies, while charming, could get so confusing that the company handed out maps so new hires could find their way around.
Talk of relocating peaked when Mayor Jean Stothert late last year arranged a deal in which the city was to buy Alvine and neighboring properties, including the historic Christian Specht building, and turn them over to OPA for its expansion.
But as reports of razing the century-old buildings drew public protest, OPA in February withdrew from the plan, leaving Alvine stunned and without a buyer.
That led to a period of “decompressing,” Doug Alvine said. But it didn’t take long for Alvine leaders to decide to push ahead with the project site they’d been exploring with Jason Lanoha.
Said Doug Alvine of 1207 Cass: “It had all the right things.”
Building from scratch allows the engineering firm to tailor 30,500 square feet to its particular office needs, and look at implementing cutting-edge technology used and seen in Alvine-involved projects around the country. That can include things like rainwater harvesting, on-site gray water treatment, green roofs and well-building certification — or designing a building with employees’ health and wellness in mind.
The company’s high-power systems in turn also are expected to benefit apartment dwellers sharing the 90,000-square-foot structure with Alvine.
For example, said Doug Alvine: “They could get super-high-speed Internet that would not exist in a typical environment.” Indeed, he predicted that some of Alvine’s own employees would choose to live in the 45 apartments that will occupy the upper floors.
“We could see employees living there,” Doug Alvine said, noting the national trend toward live-work-play campuses.
Among the building’s planned amenities: an exercise facility and fourth-floor clubhouse and deck with a view toward the ballpark.
Parking stalls and retail spots behind glass garage-like doors are planned on the ground level. Retail at first is envisioned as pop-up shops leased by vendors of baseball or sports paraphernalia. Lanoha said an influx of residents at the Alvine and other future residential projects eventually should create a demand for permanent retailers.
The 1207 Cass building, designed by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, is being developed by Lanoha and will be co-owned by Lanoha Development and Alvine.
Alvine leaders also are looking at their state-of-the-art offices as a carrot for recruitment.
“Everybody is getting new digs, and young talent find that exciting,” Doug Alvine said.
Founded in 1961 as a mechanical and electrical systems design and consulting firm, Alvine focuses on engineering and has two other brands: IP Design Group and Alvine Aquatics.
Largely because of diverse expertise, Alvine leaders said, the company’s employee count expanded even during the Great Recession. As the workforce grew, so did the space Alvine was occupying. The structure was built as two different addresses: 1108 and 1102 Douglas. The 1108 side lost two upper floors to fire when lightning struck during World War II.
Today, about 100 employees work in Omaha, with 30 others in the Lincoln, Des Moines and Oklahoma City offices. That’s a total employee count up fourfold from 1990, Yantzer said. (It was in 1990 that the Alvine brothers bought the firm from their dad, who had earlier worked at the family-owned Leo A Daly Co.)
The company’s work on Union Pacific Railroad’s 19-story headquarters, which opened in 2005, precipitated a wave of growth. During the tower’s planning stages, Hines — U.P.’s international real estate development and investment firm — sought bids from its nationally known stable of engineers, Hines Senior Vice President David Robinson recalled in an interview.
Railroad officials suggested adding the local Alvine firm to the list of candidates. Robinson said he hadn’t heard of Alvine before then.
“We were all kind of blown away,” Robinson said of Alvine’s interview. “The personality of the firm came through loud and clear; they presented capabilities in a fresh way.”
The resulting partnership led Hines to recruit Alvine for a high-rise project in Chicago. Since then, Hines has called upon Alvine to work on engineering needs of about 20 other projects, Robinson said.
According to Alvine, its mechanical and electrical engineering know-how has been showcased in buildings such as the Water’s Edge in Los Angeles and Takeda Pharmaceuticals’ corporate headquarters in suburban Chicago. Among current projects is the design of mechanical and engineering systems at One Brickell City Centre in Miami, which is to stretch 80 stories.
Locally, Alvine said its mark can be found in such places as the new Corvina and C02 apartment complexes along South 10th Street; the Tenaska headquarters in west Omaha; the University of Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center; Temple Israel; and Eppley Airfield.
The company’s projects range from designing mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering systems for a corporate skyscraper to compiling a $2,000 analysis on how to best replace a boiler and chiller system.
“We bring in the dynamic systems in a building,” Doug Alvine said. “Everything that lives and moves and breathes in a building is what we do.”
Even as Alvine’s reach has extended nationally, its leaders said the company remained firmly rooted in Omaha. External circumstances nudged the company’s move, but Alvine leaders say they’re excited to take the leap.
They expect to move in late 2017. Alvine will be the only office tenant in the structure lit up with its company name.
Its leaders look forward to the active Cass Street corridor outside their front door.
“The yet-to-come is going to be pretty cool,” Yantzer said.
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