Ray Kendra Goes it Alone

TRAVERSE CITY – Architect Ray Kendra credits the past for his present – and future.

Kendra bought out the final partner in CWS Architects in late 2010. The well-established Traverse City firm had operated as Clark Walter Sirrine Architects – run by Jon Walter, Terry Clark and Bill Sirrine – for the last 25 years. Kendra joined the firm eight years ago and now is leading the company.

"A lot of companies are going to be going through this transition – long, established groups of businesses now starting to turn over," says Kendra. "If you do it right, it's cool to see companies keep moving on."

First up? A physical move. Kendra moved the office last fall from its longtime location on Union Street to the 4th floor of Traverse City's Radio Centre overlooking Front.

The previous owners/founders were always "progressive and open to new ideas" for ways for the firm to grow, Kendra says, while they themselves were reaching the late stages of their careers. "It's really easy to let your ego get in the way, " he adds. "They did a good job of not getting hung up on that. They were very willing to change."

Kendra says in his early years with the firm a lot of the work was for schools around the region and state, its primary niche market at the time. "We had a great practice but weren't focused as much on marketing in Traverse City," he says. "Something I was really interested in was building a bigger presence here, so we started chasing city and county work and more community-oriented projects."

Mission accomplished: CWS Architects designed the new Old Town Parking Deck, a project now poised to receive gold-level LEED certification for environmentally responsible design and construction.

Former owner Bill Sirrine, who still works at the firm, sees the company transition under Kendra as very positive. "I see a lot of Ray in me when I was his age. Ray has done well by me, and I like to think I've done well by him."

One evolution for the firm is in name alone. "We all agreed that the [last] names weren't important," Kendra says, referencing the move to CWS Architects. Kendra adds that the name may further evolve to reflect the firm's environmental focus. He is working with local firm Lindy Lazar Marketing Communications on the firm's re-freshening and rebranding.

"We're an established firm, but have a new lease on life," Kendra says. He points to a major "green building" project back in 2005 that was key in launching the company in its current direction. The BATA Transfer Station on Hall Street was the first LEED-certified commercial project in Grand Traverse County.

Since that time, the firm has been promoting its "green" footprint to both the residential and commercial markets. Stobert Dental in Kalkaska is another one of its designs, and was awarded a silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"We like to be creative with clients' projects," says Kendra. "We can do a neat looking project on a tight budget. He cites the under-budget Old Town Parking Deck as an example. "People drive right by it because they don't recognize it as a parking deck."

Kendra sees green building moving from "just a trend" locally to more mainstream. He says a LEED-certified project is under consideration for the renovation of the historic barns at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Also, NMC's construction and renewable energy programs are key in creating a local workforce skilled in green building technologies, he adds.

"I felt there was a lot of talk in the architectural community about "green," but not a lot of action," Kendra says of the now 6-year-old BATA project. "It was an awesome opportunity. It was progressive. Others weren't sure, but it launched us in this new direction." BN