Commercial Real Estate

Kansas City’s HNTB Celebrates Its Road to Longevity

100 years of creating some of KC’s most enduring and unique landmarks is cause for recognition

It’s time to blow out the candles on a monumental anniversary for one of Kansas City’s best-known companies. Architecture, engineering, planning and construction firm HNTB is celebrating 100 years.

The hometown company with a national reputation has managed to survive societal, infrastructure and economic changes over the last century while continuing to earn trust and business from both new and return clients. According to HNTB Central Division President Tom O’Grady, the firm has built a legacy that has shaped and reshaped the world in which we live.

“Knowing that you want to last 100 years is a good start,” O’Grady says. “Having the plans to address changes in work, leadership and even the firm’s ownership helps you maintain your longevity, as well as providing quality service that clients can rely on time after time.”

Founded in 1914, HNTB’s Kansas City roots began with the design of innovative railroad bridges and expanded to include a full range of infrastructure-related services, including planning, design, program delivery and construction management. Such diversity, O’Grady says, grew out of long-term, trusted client relationships. As client needs changed, they often turned to HNTB, he says.

At the end of the day, we get to work on the coolest projects out there and point them out to our family and friends.” – HNTB Central Division President Tom O’Grady

“We have worked with transportation agencies and municipalities over the years, and when situations change for them, we’ve been right there as partners helping them make the change,” O’Grady says. “For example, our toll authority clients started saying they needed booths, so we expanded into building toll booths. Cities and counties needed help with convention centers and stadiums, which grew that segment of our business.”

The contributions from HNTB construction can be seen among the largest, most iconic and complex bridges, highways, airports, public buildings and public works projects across the U.S. Today, the firm is among the top consultants to the country’s state departments of transportation and serves as the general engineering consultant to more U.S. toll agencies than any other firm.

In its 100 years, the HNTB name has been associated with numerous notable projects. Locally, HNTB’s rich history includes the designs for the 12th Street Viaduct, Bartle Hall Convention Center and its Grand Ballroom, the Truman Sports Complex, the Interstate 435/U.S. Highway 69 Interchange, the original Paseo Bridge, and later, its replacement, the Christopher S. Bond Bridge.

Nationally, HNTB has been recognized for such projects as the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. Louis, the new NY Bridge, which will replace New York City’s iconic Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, and the new 68,000-seat Levi’s Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, HNTB’s work on that stadium is groundbreaking in many ways, according to HNTB Associate Vice President and Central Division Architecture Office Lead Chris Migneron.

Designed with many sustainable elements, the LEED-certified stadium will be expandable to host premier events, and has been selected as the site for Super Bowl L. The stadium also is being designed to accommodate Major League Soccer and World Cup events. It is one of the largest stadium projects in the Northwest. Among the innovations is its distribution of premium amenities, Migneron says. Specifically, the premium amenities are located on one side of the atrium, while the other two-thirds of the seating brings fans closer to the action and provides them with a more intimate sporting experience—much like college football, Migneron says.

Another unique attribute is the amount of technology built in. Because it’s located close to Silicon Valley, technology is the backbone of the stadium, unlike anything else in the NFL’s history and better than any technology retroactively added to other NFL stadiums. According to Migneron, the stadium is wired for future technology as well.

“The client wants the fans to have the best experience possible, so as fans get close to the stadium, their mobile device will feed them an interactive experience even before they get out of the car,” Migneron says.

While HNTB delivers on a number of high-profile projects like the stadium, the heart of its operations remains infrastructure solutions. Transportation is critical to the nation’s commerce, and as more attention is given to “liveability,” the vitality of roads, highways and bridges continues to be critical. Transportation has already changed considerably, O’Grady says, with an increase in trucking to ship goods around the country over the last 100 years. Even more transportation changes are coming down the road. Helping government agencies design and build smart solutions for improved infrastructures is still HNTB’s top objective when working with its clients.

“Our nation’s strength, stability and quality of life are built on robust transportation infrastructure projects,” O’Grady says. “HNTB is honored to play an important part in creating jobs, encouraging commerce and connecting our communities.”

Nowhere is that more clear than in HNTB’s own backyard. The firm is currently overseeing the summer 2014 start of phase two of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s (KDOT) Johnson County Gateway project, a massive reconstruction of the Interstate 435, Interstate 35 and Kansas Highway 10 interchange. According to HNTB Vice President, Project Director and Project Manager for the Gateway Project Joe Brand, at $288 million, it is the largest transportation project in the KC metro in recent years. Each day, the area draws 230,000 cars.

“At times, it’s a parking lot of cars. It’s the busiest interchange in the state,” Brand says. “The growing level of traffic and congestion and accidents make this an important project for KDOT. They hired us because we have a long history with KDOT. We know their people, processes and how they do business. Plus, we have national experience with similar projects.”

In an effort to continually improve construction times and alleviate public frustration during the life of the project, Brand says HNTB developed an innovative RFP (request for proposal) with incentives for early completion that essentially allow “more project for the money.” Likewise, when the project is underway, the firm will go live with a sophisticated website that includes an interactive map for the public to track construction snarls in real time. And while the $288 million budget will not fix all the problems of the area, according to O’Grady, HNTB must balance the future with the present.

“We’re constantly working with clients to determine what design makes the most sense now and how long it will last,” O’Grady says. “Could we design an infrastructure that lasts 200 years? Yes, but the cost will be more significant and transportation changes will continue to evolve.”

For now, HNTB—and its 3,600 employees across 60 U.S. offices—takes pride in its accomplishments throughout the last 100 years. That includes surviving America’s most recent economic downturn, where lower tax revenue impacted its infrastructure projects, O’Grady says. It also includes internal challenges of growth. O’Grady adds that the firm was proud to become an employee-owned company in 2000. Still, he says, current and potential employees are drawn to the firm for its reputation and century-old body of work.

“Our employees help transform American transportation and infrastructure. We’re known for attracting people who want to work on big, exciting projects, and we’ve always had the good fortune to have those types of projects,” O’Grady says. “At the end of the day, we get to work on the coolest projects out there and point them out to our family and friends.”