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March 2005
Collaborative Approach Yields Progressive Design Solutions
By Ellison Clary

    As the managing principals at ColeJenest & Stone talk about the firm’s development, they view one particular project – Gateway Village in late ’90s – as a watershed moment. For them it was a turning point, garnering recognition of the firm’s essential strengths.

“That project helped us grow to another level,” says Michael Cole, of the landscape architecture and civil engineering contract for the $375 million mixed-use project on West Trade Street in center city Charlotte.

It happened in 1996 when then-chairman Hugh McColl Jr. of Bank of America decided to place a huge technology complex in an urban setting and make it a mixed-use project that included residential and commercial elements as well as 1.1 million square feet of office space. Cousins Properties developed it for Bank of America.

“We were the underdog bidding on the project,” Cole modestly admits of their firm that employed about 16 people at the time. “But we showed a lot of energy. We were selling an interest and a commitment to urban work.”

Indelible in Cole’s mind is the day John Goff, then vice president of development for Cousins Properties in Charlotte, visited the firm’s offices to deliver the good news that the firm was selected to work on the Gateway project.

Goff, who’s now senior vice president of design and construction for Cousins Properties in Atlanta, remembers how he had narrowed his search to seven firms: “ColeJenest & Stone had the best feel for urban place-making,” he says.

“It was really beyond the technical expertise required. They did the civil engineering and the landscape architecture for the whole project.”

Getting the Gateway project opened many other doors, Jenest confirms. Other high profile urban projects have followed including The Green on South Tryon Street, Johnson & Wales University, Pack Square in Asheville, Morgan Square in Spartanburg, S.C., and Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort, S.C.

Their growth has been marked since Cole and Jenest first got together. Cole, from Raleigh, and Jenest from Boston, had been college buddies at North Carolina State University while each was pursuing a degree in Landscape Architecture at the school’s College of Design. They landed together in Charlotte with Odell Associates in 1979. Jenest moved on to another Charlotte company, but both got restless.

They reunited in 1988 to form ColeJenest and located on East Boulevard. A couple of moves through center city locations since then has brought them to their current location on South Tryon Street, the old NCNB building.

Cole and Jenest renamed the firm ColeJenest & Stone in 1995 by bringing in Dudley Stone as the third managing principal. The Atlantan is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and was with Duke Power Company, and has a civil engineering degree from Clemson University.

 

Coming to the fore

Stone, who had been working with ColeJenest as a consultant, helped make ColeJenest & Stone the comprehensive land planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering and urban design firm it is today, Cole and Jenest agree.

Cole believes the addition of Stone made a big difference in snaring many contracts, including the one for Gateway. “Clients could come to us and get one-stop shopping on the land planning side and we could offer engineering and landscape design in the same firm,” he explains.

Jenest admits there are plenty of firms that offer both landscape architecture and civil engineering, but believes most are light on one discipline or the other. “We really are a 50-50 split,” Jenest says. “We have civil engineers and landscape architects collaborating on the same teams.”

Stone buys into that. “If you just have a designer, all you end up with is a sketch on the back of a napkin,” he says. “But when you start putting the technical parts to that and add the attention to detail that comes with thinking technically, then you’re going to come up with designs that work.”

Today, ColeJenest & Stone operates with 48 employees in over 10,000 square feet on the 14th floor of 200 South Tryon Street. The firm has four more employees in a Raleigh office that it opened last August.

The company grew by 16 percent last year and billed almost $5 million according to Cole. Except for two flat years following 9-11, growth has come in double-digit percentages annually, he adds.

ColeJenest & Stone has a healthy mix of projects, Cole says. The work is divided approximately evenly between residential, commercial, health care, education and civic, which includes parks and streetscapes. Most projects are in North Carolina and South Carolina, within a three-hour radius of Charlotte.

The principals click off significant projects such as Gaston Memorial Hospital west expansion in Gastonia, Baxter Village in Fort Mill, S.C., and Union Regional Medical Center Campus Park in Monroe. In Charlotte, they name the Johnson & Wales University, the UNC Charlotte Institute Master Plan, the Carolinas Medical Center Levine Children’s Hospital and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Additionally, the firm is very proud to be involved in Ballantyne Corporate Park, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Headquarters and Crescent Ridge.

Currently, ColeJenest & Stone counts 28 projects within the Interstate 277 loop that defines center city Charlotte. These include working with architect Ellerbe Beckett on the uptown arena that will be the home of the Charlotte Bobcats.

 

Commitment to urban work

Another important project was to provide the civil engineering and landscape architecture design for The Green, an urban park developed by Wachovia between South Tryon and South College streets directly in front of the Charlotte Convention Center. The whimsical greenspace caps an underground parking deck, and is adjacent to a seven-floor condominium complex called the Ratcliffe.

“ColeJenest & Stone was very open to unique ideas expressed and took a pretty collegial approach,” says Pat Mumford, Wachovia’s senior vice president for community affairs. “There was no ego that came out from ColeJenest & Stone. They were very humble in their expertise. That obviously helps an owner’s representative work through a project and be happy.”

Jenest believes part of that attitude springs from the firm’s commitment to urban work. Jenest says “We’re all very interested in doing things that maybe make a little bit more sense environmentally.” Then he’s quick to add: “Not that we don’t do work out in the suburbs, as we are also involved in greenfield development.”

Along with more options for development, business has grown more complicated in the last ten years, Stone says. “It’s so much harder because of the regulatory and environmental requirements that were not in place before,” he explains. “These things are good because we’re taking care of the environment. But there’s a lot of information and details to include in our construction plans and specifications. We have an organization here that shares information and keeps clients and staff aware of new regulations and requirements.”

Stone also points out that the success of the firm is due in large part to a committed and energetic staff. The collegial atmosphere and its high profile projects help the firm attract some of the brightest graduates from schools with strong landscape architecture or civil engineering curriculums, all three managing principals say. Among the campuses ColeJenest & Stone visits regularly are NC State University, Clemson University, the University of Georgia, and UNC Charlotte.

The firm tries to keep its youthful staff happy with outings, such as a recent trip to Bald Head Island, and parties such as the holiday soiree that started at center city hangout Cosmos. “Thirsty Thursday” sessions are a regular after-work event

ColeJenest & Stone encourages community involvement as well. “We are fortunate for all that’s happened to us,” Jenest says, “and we like to give back.” He lists the Cantwell Street Subdivision ColeJenest & Stone designed for Habitat for Humanity and the firm’s involvement with Friendship Trays, the Chamber and the Urban Land Institute.

Using the Raleigh office, Cole believes the company can serve some Eastern North Carolina markets he believes are neglected such as New Bern, Wilmington, Greenville and Jacksonville, among others. Developers in those cities probably wouldn’t work with a Charlotte firm, he says, but he’s hoping they’ll listen when the Raleigh office comes calling.

In five years, Cole adds, the company might well have an Asheville office, and maybe one in Wilmington, as well as in Greenville, S.C.

“We would rather have five small offices than one large firm,” Cole says. “We believe this kind of growth will provide better service for our clients and better opportunities for our staff.” Jenest says, “We’re all about getting clients what they need on time and making sure it’s right.”

 

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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