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LEADING QUESTIONS: Design guru abides in rocky economy

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Sanford Garner, 42, is proud of his company’s performance in 2010, despite the fact that its billings fell about $1 million, or some 20 percent.



“We still made a profit,” said Garner, co-founder and now sole owner of design firm A2SO4 Architecture LLC. “It’s probably been the worst year fiscally in my lifetime, and my business partner was running for secretary of state, and I was reorganizing my company. I’m actually proud of that.”

It was a tumultuous year for Garner, who in the past has not responded well to stress. Billings at the firm dipped from $4.9 million in 2009 to $3.9 million in 2010. Co-founder Vop Osili lost his bid for state office, and later exited the firm altogether. (Garner purchased his shares in the company earlier this year.) Six others left A2SO4 between 2009 and 2010, either due to layoffs or attrition, leaving the total headcount at 22.

Instead of relying on the “shotgun” approach to pursuing contracts that marked A2SO4’s early years, the firm has tried to play to its strengths. That includes concentrating on K-12 and higher education buildings, sustainable parking garages and other "green" projects, and multi-use structures. It also has shown a willingness to partner with other design firms on projects.

The bottom line in 2010 was $50,000 in the black. “My CFO was so angry when she saw the numbers,” Garner said. “And I said, ‘It’s a blessing. We made a profit in a horrible economy, after all we’ve been through. I’m ecstatic.’”

Sitting in the doorway of a vacant downtown church, Garner beams with the gleeful optimism of a Renaissance cherub. In the mid 2000s, as A2SO4 was getting on its feet, such a stressful year might have given him fits and inspired huge mood swings. He actually was hospitalized for three days during that period with an irregular heartbeat, born of anxiety.

Executive coaching and an increased reliance on his Christian faith have helped him deal with shifts in fortune. “I’m not prone to stress anymore, which is nice,” he said.

It seems all the more appropriate that Garner will become something of a permanent fixture in this 132-year-old Catholic church. He plans on rehabbing the dilapidated structure, located on the southwest corner of College Avenue and North Street, and relocating A2SO4 from its current headquarters in downtown's Union Station to the revitalized building.

“An associate mentioned to me that renovating this church is so much me and my spirit,” Garner said. “He said, ‘Your passion is the urban core. You love preservation. How much more of a way to show and live out your passion than renovating an old historic church in downtown? And knowing your belief, how much more of a way to express that than moving into a church?’”

The move also makes financial sense. Garner expects the firm will save at least $5,000 per month in operational expenses after the move, which includes the difference in leasing costs vs. paying off the bank loan required for the renovation.

Garner, who bought the building in 2001 with a partner, Mark Maryanovsky,  expects to spend about $1 million on the project. That figure will include buying out Maryanovsky, whose high-end audio and video shop, Tone Studio, will remain directly southwest of the church.

Renovation work is expected to begin within weeks, with move-in targeted for January. “We’re looking at keeping the inside largely the way it is now,” Garner said. “I shared with my staff, ‘Even though this is a historic church, please don’t think I’m looking to do a restoration.’ … It will look like a historic structure on the outside, but we’ll have some modern and updated twists in there that will surprise some people.”

In the video at top, Garner provides a peek inside the church, which has been vacant for at least 25 years and shows some serious signs of neglect. He also discusses how he has learned to deal with stress, and the coincidental significance of moving his firm into a church.




 

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  • Bravo to Sanford!
    This is awesome. The haters need to go take a hike, a long long hike.

    Sanford is taking on a gigantic project and I cannot wait to see the end result. This is another feather in the cap for historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects. May he blaze the way for others to do the same.
  • BS
    This is BS. A2SO4 owes multiple subconsultants hundreds of thousands of dollars. IBJ should do more homework prior to publishing articles like this. His lack of stress is a crutch to justify stiffing companies that have done business with him.
  • Great piece
    Put's a real human face on the business. Good luck to Mr Garner, and many thanks for his dedication to the urban core.

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  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.

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