Bob Shallit

Steve Ayers ponders life after Armour Steel

Steve Ayers in the ballroom of the Elks Tower, the historic J Street building he restored after acquiring it in 2003.
Steve Ayers in the ballroom of the Elks Tower, the historic J Street building he restored after acquiring it in 2003. Bob Shallit

Sacramento business leader Steve Ayers has closed Armour Steel, his prosperous local fabrication company, and entered into what he’s calling “semi-retirement.”

But don’t fit him for a rocking chair just yet.

Ayers, who is 56, is planning to keep active as an investor, developer and owner of several other businesses. He’ll be working “only” five days a week, laboring 60 to 70 hours instead of 80 to 90.

“You work seven days a week for 27 years, working five days is a cakewalk,” he said.

Armour Steel was founded in 1989 by Steve and his brother, Michael, and has been involved in more than 800 local projects. Among them: the steel superstructure for California Musical Theatre, a retrofitted foundation for the Elliott Building at 16th and J streets, and the giraffe barn and viewing deck at the Sacramento Zoo.

“There’s hardly a block I drive down where I don’t see something we had a hand in,” said Steve, the son of a union steelworker in Chicago.

He said the company developed a reputation for doing “flash track” jobs – challenging projects with impossible deadlines.

Armour’s success was the foundation for Steve Ayers’ various investment ventures, which notably include buying and renovating the historic Elks Tower at 11th and J streets in downtown Sacramento.

But he said he didn’t have a problem last year when his brother expressed an interest in retiring from the steel business and spending more time with Compassion Planet, a nonprofit that helps teens and young adults who have aged out of the foster system.

“He reached out and said he was looking to retire (from the business) ... and I said, ‘I’ll join you,’” Ayers said.

Armour, which had its headquarters and manufacturing operations on 10 acres in Rio Linda, is now in the “wind down phase,” he said. Specialized machinery, rolling stock and other equipment are being sold. The real estate is for sale or lease.

Other steel firms in the region have “gobbled up” Armour’s 100 employees, Ayers said.

Looking ahead, Ayers said he’ll be spending lots of time working at Iron Mechanical, a plumbing, heating and air conditioning firm he helped found seven years ago.

He also has plenty of investment deals – and does pretty well on those, judging from his take-away from a recent South Natomas land sale.

In a transaction that closed on Monday, Ayers sold an 11-acre parcel off Garden Highway to Demmon Partners, which plans to build an upscale, 232-unit apartment complex there.

Two year ago, Ayers paid $700,000 for the land – once part of developer Abe Alizadeh’s failed real estate empire. The sales price this time: $3.6 million.

History lesson

Life-long Sacramentan Earl Dempsey saw our item this week about the clock that doesn’t work at 10th and J streets.

It’s known as the Fred Mayes Jewelers clock, but Dempsey thinks people should know it was first put in place by another jeweler, Tom Monk, who opened a shop downtown in the 1920s and went on to be Sacramento mayor from 1938 to 1945.

Mayes later bought out Monk’s business and changed the name on the clock face.

Dempsey knows what he’s talking about. From the time he was 6 years old, he worked weekends at his father’s jewelry shop – also downtown. It was the 1960s, and he remembers seeing Monk trudging across what was then called Plaza Park to get to the post office.

“I knew Fred Mayes and liked him,” said Dempsey, who went on to run his father’s company and now, at the age of 69, works downtown as the manager of California Loan and Jewelry. “But Tom Monk was just a little more important in our history.”