Visit the office of Gorman & Company and you will know they are serious about historic preservation. The red brick building, a former schoolhouse built in 1922 that had fallen into disrepair, has been transformed into stylish office space. Many original materials were preserved, including the red brick exterior, maple floors, and even the old chalkboards attached to the walls.
Gorman & Company has been having a positive social impact on communities through creative redevelopment and renovation since 1984—that’s the core of what they do. The company specializes in downtown revitalization, especially the rehabilitation of affordable housing, workforce housing, and the adaptive reuse of significant historic buildings. Because of the long-standing, committed partnerships they have forged with municipal leaders, Gorman & Company can smoothly navigate the often complex process of property acquisition and financing.
President and CEO Gary Gorman never intended to start a construction company focused on historic preservation and redevelopment. He started his career as an attorney, frequently representing developers and syndicators who were raising capital from investors for their real estate deals. Eventually he realized he was more interested in real estate and redevelopment, so he switched careers and founded Gorman & Company in 1984.
When the Tax Reform Act passed in 1986, creating the affordable housing tax credit in Section 42 of the Wisconsin Statutes, Gorman assembled a series of four private placements to capitalize the equity financing for some of the first projects utilizing the affordable housing tax credit in Wisconsin. Since then Gorman & Company has steadily grown to be one of the largest users of the Section 42 tax credit in the state. This depth of experience makes Gorman & Company a “go-to” choice for many cities that are looking for redevelopment advice and planning. Today the company employs about 120 people and constructs nearly 3000 new apartment every year.
“Most of our projects are more challenging than competitors are willing to take on and include complex construction and financial models,” says Ron Swiggum, Construction Department Head for Gorman & Company. “Much of this work consists of historic rehabilitation, which often has unique construction challenges and financial models. Funding often comes from state and federal government agencies. Although these projects are higher risk, we have the knowledge and skills to complete them successfully and profitably through diligent design, review, and construction. Our partnerships with local communities, neighborhoods, housing authorities and state officials also streamline the process.”
Gorman & Company’s projects are often located in low-income neighborhoods where unemployment tends to be high. One way the company engages the community is by providing job and skill training on the jobsite.
“We have participation programs for local residents where we provide jobs and offer trade skills,” says Swiggum. “Right now on a Louisiana project we are providing management and trade skills training for six individuals. When the job is over they will have transferrable skills and be able to market themselves as plumbers, concrete workers, etc.”
Construction and Architectural Divisions
Gorman & Company owns its development projects and serves as the general contractor. Having this in-house ability gives the company greater control over the management of each construction phase, which speeds up the project and keeps costs down. This knowledge allows Gorman & Company to objectively review and analyze all aspects of its projects and continuously improve construction practices with each successive development.
“Our strong relationships with highquality subcontractors help us achieve superior results quickly, which means we often finish projects ahead of schedule,” says Swiggum. Gorman & Company’s construction team consists of project managers, on-site field superintendents, and a general field superintendent, all of whom oversee active projects on a daily basis.
If unexpected challenges or problems arise, the construction leadership on-site evaluates the situation and quickly resolves it, sometime in close collaboration with the company’s architectural division. Having an in-house architectural team is an essential core component to historic renovation, adaptive reuse, and new construction. In-house architecture also allows the company to make quicker decisions when unforeseen issues arise during renovation or the preservation of older housing structures.
“Our in-house architectural capability gives us control over quality, design, and innovation for spaces that are meant to serve a wide variety of people and their interests,” says Swiggum. “For example, the creative design of artists’ lofts allows residents to use their apartments as studios. In other units we install state-ofthe- art features that are specially designed to assist convenient living for residents with physical disabilities. Knowing in advance who will be living in our buildings allows us to custom design the interior to meet their needs.”
A huge part of Gorman & Company’s success is their deep relationships with agencies and the innovative housing partnerships they create. City governments and leaders are eager to work with Gorman & Company because their efforts at downtown revitalization and adaptive reuse of significant historic buildings are critical to economic development, especially in downtown areas.
“We work hand-in-hand with communities, usually on projects they have already identified,” indicates Tom Capp, Chief Operating Officer for Gorman & Company. “They view us as problem solvers and we are delighted to partner with them and share our expertise. It is highly rewarding to take a valuable historic asset, that’s become a symbol of decline, and return it to active use, adding so much to the community. When we 10 Wisconsin Constructor® / Issue 3 • 2010 work in distressed neighborhoods we often hold job fairs for local residents and try to tie them together with the subcontractors who will be bidding on the development.”
And the improvement doesn’t stop there—most of Gorman & Company’s projects spark additional economic development because they have become a symbol of high quality investment in a neighborhood.
“I like to speak of Milwaukee as the most livable big city in America and Gorman & Company is in large measure responsible for my confidence in making that statement,” says Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee. “In a time when many cities yearn for investment in their neighborhoods, we have the Historic Lofts on Kilbourn, Golden Dome Apartments, Historic Fifth Ward Condos, the Kunzelmann- Esser Building, the Knitting Factory and more, all tributes to Gorman & Company’s vision of Milwaukee as a dynamic marketplace.”
Red Brick School, Oregon:
In partnership with the Village of Oregon and the Oregon School District, Gorman & Company purchased and renovated the former “Red Brick School,” an abandoned high school within the village limits that was built in 1922.
The $3-million renovation converted the structure into innovative and comfortable office space. Gorman & Company salvaged many of the building’s components and incorporated them into the redesign, including wood doors and trim, Terrazzo and wood flooring, built-in cabinets and original skylights. Amenities for employees include the renovated basketball court and a 1950s-style diner that serves as a break room.
In 2008 the project received the Historic Preservation Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society Board of Curators.
Blue Ribbon Lofts, Milwaukee:
Blue Ribbon Loft Apartments is the first building to be redeveloped on the 21-acre Pabst Brewery site. Originally called the Keg House, the three-story, 140,000-square-foot brick building was converted into a 95-unit loft style apartment community. The $15.8-million development has 69 units for families earning 50 percent to 60 percent of the area median income and 26 units at market rates. Features include 15-foot ceilings, exposed brick and steel columns, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Residents include local artists, entrepreneurs, and other members of the “creative class” who enjoy a music studio, artist workspaces and galleries, a fully equipped business center, conference rooms, a theater/presentation space, and a fitness center. Blue Ribbon Lofts is the lead project in the redevelopment of the brewery site, which has 25 more buildings awaiting redevelopment.
“Gorman & Company has always taken on tough challenges and turned them into award-winning developments,” states Rocky Marcoux, Commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development. “They approach each development with a vision that respects the urban context, the neighborhood, and most importantly the residents. In Milwaukee they have especially excelled at adaptive reuse. The Blue Ribbon Lofts project is a perfect example of their ingenuity, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. They really understand the development and redevelopment process and have been an outstanding partner with the City of Milwaukee in creating housing and mixed-use developments that reinvigorate neighborhoods and add value to the city.”
Fairbanks Flats Rowhomes, Beloit:
Gorman & Company, in partnership with the City of Beloit, the local neighborhood, and the state housing authority, revitalized Fairbanks Flats, listed on both the State Historical Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1917, Fairbanks Flats is one of only two buildings in the U.S. originally constructed for segregated company housing. The original 24 units were converted into 16 rent-to-own, affordable townhouses for low-to-moderate income families and people with disabilities. Gorman & Company preserved the historic design of the original buildings when creating the townhomes, which range in size from 1,288 to 1,787 square feet.
Renters of these units are given the opportunity to purchase at a substantial market discount at the end of a fifteenyear tax compliance period. The redevelopment provides long-term residents with the opportunity to share in the equity at the time of purchase and gives them the opportunity to build credit and homeownership skills prior to owning a home.
Fairbanks Flats received the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.
State & Main, Racine:
This mixed-use, mixed-income development provides condominiums, market- rate and affordable apartments, class- A retail space, and commercial underground parking. The project was identified as the number-one priority for downtown redevelopment by the City of Racine.
The renovation has resulted in 285 downtown living units and six choice retail sites. More than one-third of the funding for the $19.7 million, four-story, 107-unit building came from a $7.5 million tax credit boost from the Wisconsin Housing Economic Development Authority.
Even in a tougher economy, Gorman & Company doesn’t face a lot of competition for projects because it’s simply too challenging for most companies to complete the work in a timely manner and navigate all the legal and financial requirements. “We have established strong relationships with various housing authorities in our target markets and they have come to know and trust us,” says Swiggum. “Even so, funding in this economy continues to be a challenge and we’ve become creative in searching out investors and funding for projects.”
Conditions are slowly starting to improve—Swiggum notes the federal government has launched several programs and federal stimulus funds are being received by various states for redevelopment projects.
With its highly specialized redevelopment and partnership expertise Gorman & Company works across the country, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, and the Gulf Coast. The company is also considering other niches like hospice and elder care.
“We want to diversify a little bit,” says Capp. “We were very much dependent on the Midwestern market, which can be very solid. But we did want to grow in a deliberate way and have the best choice of projects in more diverse markets, especially areas that need our services the most, like the parts of Mississippi and Louisiana that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”
“Gorman & Company enjoys taking on very difficult projects and they do those projects very well,” says Antonio Riley, Executive Director for the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). “They bring a lot of expertise, an understanding of the process, and above all an understanding and a respect for the community.”
Gorman & Company will always stay true to its mission of revitalizing communities by creating high-quality housing opportunities for a variety of income levels.
“Our ability to create innovative housing solutions and positively impact communities has earned Gorman & Company the trust and respect of our many project partners,” says Gorman. “We understand the economics and unique challenges of urban areas and work side by side with civic leaders, urban planners, preservationists, and concerned neighborhood organizations to turn community liabilities into community assets—which makes all the challenges worthwhile.”
Gorman values AGC for is role in protecting the construction industry political interests, public relations, and in fostering cooperation and communication within contracting family. Their role in workforce development, safety & training as well as benefit planning has been vital to Gorman’s growth since inception. We commonly use their vast services for our daily challenges and would recommend their services to anyone in the industry.