Even as the Las Vegas economy recovered from the Great Recession, Ed Vance and his architecture firm survived almost solely on the business from the Lucky Dragon. For two years during the project, Vance said projects were relatively hard to come by as developers weren’t quick to pull the trigger.
Vance is adamant that all changed with the 2016 election. Since the election, Ed Vance & Associates Architects has been inundated with projects. In the quarter following the last presidential election, Vance said he had four major office building projects and two more since then.
“Since the election we’ve been over the moon,” Vance said. “It seems like since 2016, everybody pulled their thumbs out of the damn.”
The work has provided Ed Vance & Associates enough revenue to build a new office out of cash flow.
Chris Lovett, owner of Revolution Engineering, has similar sentiments when it comes to the steady stream of business coming in to his firm. Lovett left the Valley for several years before returning to Las Vegas in 2014.
“The last couple of years, to me, has been increasing,” Lovett said. “When I came back, things were still kind of, not scarce, but there was some hesitation to pull the trigger on projects. You’d hear about something, but no one would push forward. Now, I don’t see that as much in the last two or three years.”
Lovett believes developers seem to be anxious to get projects off the ground and said the push forward appears to be following the massive Las Vegas Stadium and Las Vegas Convention Center expansion projects. Likewise, the reemergence of the Resorts World and The Drew projects on the Strip have had a similar impact, Lovett said.
The overview provided by Lovett and Vance is a perfect synopsis of the Nevada architecture and engineering industry, said Jennifer Turchin, president of the American Institute of Architects – Nevada and principal of Coda Group.
“If you’re not busy, you’re doing it wrong,” Turchin said. “Resorts World, The Drew, the convention center, the Raiders stadium, there are tons of big projects in and of itself, but the office and industrial market is booming. Houses are being built everywhere.”
Nevada’s architecture and engineering industry will welcome a boon this month when Las Vegas hosts the AIA Conference on Architecture. With more than 500 sessions and 750 exhibitors, Turchin is happy the nationwide architecture community will get a fresh look at the community.
“We’re really excited to get the folks to Las Vegas,” she said. “We haven’t held it here since 2005. A lot of things have changed since then, so we have an opportunity to show 20,000-plus architects that there is more than just the Strip.”
Steady Streams of Work
Office buildings are what Vance has been most excited about, but he said the projects are coming from all segments of the real estate industry. Along with the six office buildings, Vance said he’s had a pair of $100 million projects, including a 13-story mixed-use project and university housing and the $80 million World Market Center convention center expansion.
Even the Lucky Dragon came back to Vance for some renovation work that started this spring. CreditOne Bank, which opened a new headquarters in 2018, is already expanding and Vance said his firm is fortunate to have been called for the new 150,000 square-foot project. Likewise, there’s plenty in the pipeline at the 122-acre UNLV Gardner Tech Park.
“Gardner is really stretching their legs,” he said, mentioning 10 to 12 buildings in the park coming along in the near future. “They seem really excited about our market.”
For Ed Vance & Associates, the works has come from pretty much every line of commercial, including retail, light industrial and healthcare, he said. Vance doesn’t do much in the way of single-family residential, but said apartments are booming. Apartments and condos fall under the hospitality banner, according to Vance.
Ed Vance & Associates currently has 1,000 units in design, with another 400 in Reno.
At Revolution Engineering, a mixture of projects are also coming through the door. Lovett said he’s seen a large influx of custom residential projects in the $3 million and above range, but commercial projects of all varieties are incoming as well.
“Commercial, that’s really booming,” he said. “We’re seeing more of everything.”
Lovett also mentioned several public projects underway including multiple ones in the Clark County School District and UNLV. Vance said he’s mostly stayed out of the public projects aside from bridges, which have brought him an interesting influx of projects.
From the AIA perspective, Turchin said there’s a solid mixture of what Vance, Lovett and their firms are working on. She mentioned industrial, and specifically distribution centers, as a strong growing sector in the state, from North Las Vegas to Reno’s outer areas. “It sure feels like every sector is busy,” she said.
The steady stream of work doesn’t stop at individual firms but also includes the statewide AIA chapter and both local chapters in Nevada. Turchin said there are two major initiatives being pushed by the state’s AIA chapters.
The first is a legislative mission to change the lien laws for architects. “What happened before, we were one of the last ones to be paid,” she said.
The other major industry initiative is working with other industries on how to address homelessness and low-income housing, Turchin said.
“Our whole year is working together with other industries and cities to see what we can do to address the issues,” she said. “Some of that is legislative and some is on us and figuring out what we can do as an industry.”
Technology changes nearly every industry constantly in the digital age, and architecture and engineering is no different.
A major shift has been an expectation of 3D modeling, Lovett said. While the modeling technology has been around for years, clients now expect it. The best advantage the technology brings to the industry is it brings up potential conflicts before they appear as projects are well underway.
“Before it was on 2D and it would look good on paper and then in the field you realize a beam runs through a duct,” Lovett said. “Now, we can see before that happens so we minimize conflicts in the field and what it costs. Questions slow projects down and time is money. “Hopefully this speeds up the process,” he added.
When 2D drawings were the norm, the architecture and engineering industries would go through reams of paper. Now, as 3D models can easily be distributed to clients and other involved parties it’s helping the industry become more sustainable.
“It seems like we’re getting away from 6,000 copies of some set of documents that go into last week’s garbage,” Turchin said. “We’re all on our computers all the time anyway, we should take advantage of that technology.”
Beyond the movement away from paper, Vance said the amount of technology expected within buildings has added many layers to his operation. He said buildings now are all expected to have smart thermostats, smart locks and audio/visual technology integrated everywhere.
At times, electrical consultants were enough, but projects now require a slew of experts to help plan out building specifics.
“All buildings are just smarter,” Vance said. “You can’t walk into a room without the lights turning on. These high-tech office buildings have server rooms that will blow your mind. These buildings basically run themselves.”
Where Does It End?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear path to the end of this economic expansion.
Turchin said most economic prognosticators are suggesting there’s two more years of economic expansion. She agrees and doesn’t believe there’s any significant signs of a slow down in the stream of activity in Nevada.
A solid indicator is how nearly every firm is hiring, as Turchin pointed toward the AIA website.
“People can’t get enough talent,” she said.
A positive of the current growth is Las Vegas further defining its own aesthetic architecture style, Vance said. For years, the Valley was a mixture of Southwestern styles as an extension from New Mexico and Arizona and California’s mission style. Now, Vance said Las Vegas design has secured a footing of its own and defining its own place in design.
Beyond developing its own style, Las Vegas will continue to build, as the city tends to be a “copy cat” community, Lovett said. Once a building like the Raiders’ new stadium, there will be retail space and redevelopment all around the site.
“Resorts World is new and exciting, things we haven’t seen before,” Lovett said. “It’s a copy cat valley. When one hotel sees another one is successful, they want to mimic it.
“There will be some residual development once the Drew and Resorts World open and we see some of their new experiences.”
As the economic growth continues in Nevada, Lovett believes the economy has diversified plenty since prior to the Great Recession. When he first started in the industry in 1998, the city was hospitality oriented, continuing beyond resorts and hotels with high-rise condos.
“When the bubble busted, everyone started to realize they can’t focus on hospitality,” Lovett said.
Following the tough fall Nevada took in the Great Recession, Vance said it seems the state has fewer real estate flippers and the major developers are more resilient and building for the long-term and making fundamentally stronger decisions, particularly those like Howard Hughes Corp. and Gardner.
Vance mentioned how some economists might be quick to remind people a downturn is inevitable, he’s confident of the current climate with a climbing stock market, strong employment numbers, low inflation rates and steady interest rates. He said, “You couldn’t order an economy any better.”
“The clients are seeing the same things we see, and they’re coming and they’re bullish,” Vance said. “We’re steaming along by every metric and everyone seems to be doing better along all party and demographic lines.”