One of Tulsa’s leading engineers sees a growing momentum to revitalize the city’s urban core. Beginning with Vision 2025, gradually more warehouses are being bought and recast as offices, apartments and lofts.
Tom Wallace, founder and president of Wallace Engineering, 200 E. Brady St., himself a proponent of preserving Tulsa’s architectural past, created a distinctive atmosphere in the former grocery warehouse in which the firm is located.
Now, less than two years after moving into the building, Wallace Engineering has practically outgrown the company’s 40,000-SF Brady District headquarters.
Wallace has taken advantage of a growing amount of work this decade starting with Vision 2025. That vote propelled dozens of local projects. Combined with Tulsa’s growing economy, the increasing amount of projects began to put pressure on Wallace to find space for its engineers.
Once unveiled, the Wallace Engineering headquarters won honors for being a 90-year-old warehouse turned into a work of art.
One of the office’s hallmarks has been the relaxed atmosphere. The glass west wall, wide-open spaces with exposed columns, glass elevator and a geothermal heating and cooling system have been the features that attract attention.
The attention to detail, as demonstrated in the headquarters renovation, is what makes the company attractive, said Dave Kollmann, president of the Tulsa Division of Flintco Inc.
“There is an upbeat atmosphere in the office. It is not a stodgy type place,” Kollmann said.
Wallace has seen 10 to 15 percent growth since the economy began ramping up following the recession of 2001-02.
For 2007, Wallace reported $17.5 million in revenues, which is $1.5 million more than ‘06 revenues, which is $2 million over the $13 million reported in ‘03.
The growth at Wallace is evident beyond Tulsa. The company’s offices in Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Mo., and Castle Rock, Colo., are experiencing expansion.
Tulsa’s growing economy also benefited branding and communications company Walsh Associates, which occupies 3,000 SF in the Brady facility with Wallace. With 175 employees and growing, Wallace knew there was not much time left before he needed more room.
“We could use that space occupied by Walsh,” he said.
As it turns out, Wallace did not have to ponder the dilemma too long.
As he thought about how to handle that expansion, Wallace looked across the street and chose to renovate another historic downtown building. Wallace bought the 7,500-SF Holloway Wire Rope Building at 302 E. Brady St. from the Tulsa Development Authority last August for $261,500. Closing on the transaction is expected by March 31, according to records. Wallace will renovate the warehouse by late summer, converting it to office space for Walsh Associates.
Walsh Associates bought advertising firm Magneto Partnership in October. With Web-based design company Scizzortell Interactive, a sister company, Walsh employs 18 people, said founder and President Kerry Walsh.
“We ran out of space. Turns out Tom needed the space, so he acquired the building and the move will be complete in about eight months,” Walsh said.
Walsh realizes annual billings about $6 million a year.
Like the Holloway Wire Rope Building, there are dozens of properties in play around downtown. Wallace’s purchase of the Holloway building is another demonstration of Wallace leading with actions, said Kollmann.
“I commend Tom for his leadership in buying a building downtown and doing a great job renovating it,” he said.
First with the 200 E. Brady properties and now the Holloway Wire Rope building, Wallace demonstrates his commitment to downtown Tulsa, Kollmann said.
“It was done within a fiscally responsible manner; being that it cost more to do that than rent some space somewhere,” he said. “It is a win-win scenario for the city.”
Wallace launched Wallace Engineering in 1981 as a structural engineering company. Wallace teams with architectural companies to make sure the design is safe and functional. Wallace does the work that goes largely unseen.
The firm diversified into civil engineering 13 years later. Civil engineering deals with planning, construction and maintenance of projects as diverse as wastewater plants, dams, flood control, streets, bridges, highways and dams.
Today, Wallace explains his company’s success simply as being fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.
“We have been able to take advantage of opportunities,” he said.
He downplays his role in any of it.
The evidence of the company’s success is widespread. Since its beginning a quarter century ago the firm has worked on $10 billion in structural and civil engineering projects.
Wallace has two distinct client bases. First, the national accounts, what Wallace refers to as the “volume building work.” The “big box” construction contracts make up nearly half of Wallace’s business and include industry giants like Wal-Mart and AutoZone, QuikTrip, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Kohl’s, which have provided a steady stream of projects.
Then there are the one-of-a-kind projects: The Morton Health Center, Saint Francis Children’s Hospital, the OU Schusterman Learning Center Library, the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center, ongoing projects at the University of Tulsa and the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City — just to name a few.
Tulsa’s economy is out of phase with the rest of the nation, Wallace said.
“We have not seen a slow down.”
Much of the workload has come from higher education, Wallace said, noting the $500 million in projects funded by House Bill 1191.
“Our current projects are feeding into new projects,” he said.
Quality Lives On
The success that Wallace enjoys is reflected in the environment within the company. It attracts high-quality engineering people, said Flintco’s Dave Kollmann.
“He’s able to assemble quality people around him,” Kollmann said. “He’s created a nucleus — getting the quality people in there — and those people provide quality service. And, it comes from Tom’s leadership.”
“We have always enjoyed working with Wallace Engineering and one of the main reasons is that they are professional and thorough,” Kollmann said. “It is very important when doing civil engineering or structural engineering to take all the information and digest it in a professional manner and then put it in drawing for us to then go and build in the field.
“We have had minimal issues when we deal with Wallace Engineering and their documents,” Kollmann said. “So, it is always a pleasure, and we have smiles on our faces when we see that Wallace Engineering is going to be the engineer of record on a project that we build.”
Wallace has dozens of high-profile projects like the Oklahoma Aquarium. The company also has had a hand in local and national projects but the type of work Wallace does isn’t always something people easily notice.
For example, Wallace has the contract for the sheet metal “skin” going onto the BOk Center.
Wallace provided the design for the Creek and Kirkpatrick turnpikes and widening of roads in Jenks.
Wallace designs large parking structures and underwater bridges.
Today, people are interested in a more urbanized setting, Wallace said.
Wallace praises City Hall’s move to the One Tech Center at Second Street and Cincinnati Avenue.
“The image it projects of Tulsa is one of a progressive city,” he said.
It is another positive force for downtown redevelopment since it opens the way for solutions near the Convention Center, he said.
“That area is obsolete,” Wallace said.
Once the current city hall is razed, the city will be able to erect a hotel on the site.
The return to the urban core is gaining momentum, he said.
“The re-use of ‘old’ warehouses is growing. People are interested in that style of living — with lofts and condos.”
People, with vision similar to Wallace, have spurred much of the activity.
“The opportunity to live and work downtown will be even greater in five years,” Wallace said.
“It is happening now, but even more so by 2013. I am glad to see what is happening downtown — People are taking risks, opening businesses,” he said. ?