Builder expands into southwest Michigan

Builder expands into southwest Michigan

A partial rendering of Owen-Ames-Kimball’s office in downtown Kalamazoo’s Haymarket Building. Courtesy O-A-K

A Grand Rapids builder with a storied history is moving into southwest Michigan.

Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. is building a branch office in downtown Kalamazoo at the Haymarket Building, at 161 E. Michigan Ave.

The company is leasing 1,800 square feet of office space in the building, and the office should be operational after Thanksgiving.

“We’re anticipating the end of November for a grand opening,” said O-A-K President Frank Stanek.

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Stanek said O-A-K will begin operations with a few staffers in the office, but eventually may have as many as eight working regularly at the site.

“That will all depend on the growth,” added Stanek.

Tom Stanek, Frank’s brother, will be in charge of the office, as the firm’s director of Kalamazoo operations.

“One of the reasons we decided to go that route was we wanted somebody in charge who would be engaged and knows that community, and Tom has lived his life in that area. He has been in the business for 20-plus years. That was important to us, as were some of his leadership skills,” said Frank Stanek, who abstained from the choice and let others at the firm make the decision.

“The most important thing, again, was having somebody who was already engaged, involved and committed to the community,” Stanek said. “We’ve worked together our whole lives, and I think we have a good working relationship. But I think we’re probably going to be harder on one another in our expectations of one another, because we are family, which I think is a good thing.”

Kalamazoo roots

Stanek felt establishing a presence in Kalamazoo would be a natural fit for the company, whose roots go all the way back to 1891.

The first project O-A-K did in the city was in 1899, when it built the Kalamazoo Paper Co. building.

The firm also built a classroom addition and a new gymnasium for Kalamazoo High School in 1912, put up Fort Custer in 1940 and did some bridge work along U.S. 12 in the 1950s and 1960s.

More recently, O-A-K has been working with the Coloma Community and White Pigeon school districts on a pair of separate projects.

Keeping it "local"

“We’ve had an exposure down there, and we just felt it was the right time,” Stanek said. “We’re looking to expand as part of our strategic plan.

“I think there is a market down there, and it’s kind of different,” added Stanek. “In order to do business in that area, they want to make sure it’s kept local, and I can’t blame them whatsoever. It was important for us to have a local presence to be successful business wise.”

“We have some momentum”

O-A-K has about 115 employees and is an employee-owned firm.

The company has built a laundry list of notable projects here that include the second phase of the Van Andel Institute, the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the Grand Rapids Civic Theater and, most recently, the historic ballroom at McKay Tower.

Stanek said the company’s construction expertise across a wide variety of projects has allowed O-A-K to establish a strong reputation for quality work, and the momentum it has built in the industry made the move to Kalamazoo a natural progression for the firm.

“So we wanted to continue that momentum and focus on our strengths, and our strengths are the K-12, higher education, commercial and community build outs,” Stanek said. “So we have some momentum going into that. We understand and realize how important it is for people to be local there, so it just made sense to open an office down there.”

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