Q+A with Steve Fry and Tom Tooley, President + Senior VP, Grand Rapids
You have both been in the architectural profession for 30+ years – why did you decide to become architects?
Steve: I really think I was born to be an architect. When I was a kid, I was VERY curious and energetic. I was also very hands-on and the kid that took everything apart to see how it worked. When I built my first treehouse, the first-floor roof became the second floor, and the second-floor roof quickly became the third floor. My dad had to issue a certificate of completion at that point. By the time I graduated from high school, I was fairly skilled at plumbing, electrical work, tile work, rough and finished carpentry as well as drafting. I think this hands-on problem-solving experience is also what makes me a good architect, because I can do many of the trade jobs and understand the limits of materials and how they go together.
Tom: My passion for architecture started in the 8th grade during career day. I selected two careers that I found interesting: architecture and becoming a forest ranger. I have always enjoyed building things and have had an interest in art, and the combination of technical and art to create a building.
Together, you lead Concept Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which recently became part of the Ghafari family of companies. What drew you to Ghafari and why did you think this would be a good fit for your team?
Steve: We were looking for a way to take our firm and work to the next level, including exposure to broader markets. Ghafari identified Concept Design as a solid firm with a strong history of providing value-added services to the Grand Rapids market. During our early discussions, it became apparent that we shared similar reputations, corporate environments, values, and goals.
Tom: I knew of Ghafari from working in the Detroit area. I have also worked with several Ghafari team members in the past. This merger is an excellent opportunity for us to reach beyond our market and build stability for our existing team, and bring our talent and expertise to other markets.
Your portfolio encompasses a broad range of corporate, commercial, and mixed-use projects. What are some recent highlights that you’re especially proud of?
Steve: Our team has worked really hard designing many of the notable renovations and expansions in the area. From residential communities and mixed-use facilities to corporate offices – we’ve done a lot. The Mercantile Bank Corporate Headquarters expansion and the 240-unit "Ridges of Cascade" high-end residential community are two that come to mind. Both projects required innovative designs and sustainable solutions.
Tom: There have been five new high-rise projects in downtown Grand Rapids, and we are responsible for four of them. We have completed more than 1,500 apartment units over the last five years, and we have designed over 15 really cool restaurants in Grand Rapids.
You’ve worked on a number of large-scale developer-based projects – what are the attributes that make you successful with that type of project?
Tom: We have developed a very experienced design and technical team to address the complexities of high-rise, mixed-use facilities. Also, we have an ability to move quickly and to develop a deliverable that the client can use to evaluate the financial component of the project. We understand that the financial aspects have to work, otherwise there won’t be a project.
Now that you’ve joined forces with Ghafari, what are your goals for the Grand Rapids office?
Steve: With our combined resources, the Grand Rapids office can start marketing our services in sectors like industrial / process / manufacturing, aviation, and healthcare. Previously these were not markets that we could be competitive in, but this partnership opens up new opportunities and deepens our bench strength. I’m confident that one plus one will equal three, as we all benefit from joining forces.
In the next few years, our goal is to double in size and volume. Grand Rapids is growing fast and is a very hot market right now. The possibilities are limitless.
Tom: Steve is focused on diversifying our regional portfolio and pursuing new project types in this geographic market. My immediate focus is working with others throughout the organization to merge our collective commercial and corporate portfolio and finding new opportunities where it applies. It’s only been a month, but we can already see the strength of our combined corporate portfolio, and how our restaurant and hospitality portfolio will be relevant in markets like aviation and healthcare.
How can your clients benefit from Ghafari’s full-service capabilities?
Steve: For years we have preached to our clients the advantages of “one source responsibility”, and now we can provide it. The mix of process, design, and engineering all under one roof makes it easier for clients – which is really the core of what we’re here for. It opens a lot more doors for us as a team.
Give us five adjectives that describe the Grand Rapids team.
Steve: Service-oriented, creative, thorough, flexible, and caring.
Tom: We are creative, responsive, practical, honest, and we listen.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
Steve: In 2009, I won eighth place (out of 1,262 entries) in the first year of ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids each year. I designed and placed a two-story, 15-ton “Table and Chairs” on the top of a historic railroad bridge trestle centered over the Grand River in Downtown Grand Rapids.
Tom: My wife calls me a “map nut”. I have always loved maps and enjoy planning our travels to new destinations where I can explore how other cities are growing and developing their urban cores.