Sacramento’s Dreyfuss + Blackford Architects saw its revenue grow by a staggering 70 percent in 2015, compared with the year-earlier period, and the firm’s president, John Webre, attributed the gains to an emergent economic turnaround in the Central Valley and the opening of a branch office in San Francisco.
“We’re right now working in five of the nine Bay Area counties, so we’re penetrating,” said Webre, adding that the San Francisco office opened in May 2015. “We’re starting to do work there. It doesn’t represent more than about 20 percent of our work, but that’s going to grow. I can see us being able to work really out of San Francisco long term, and pretty much, I would think that at some point, half of our work will be out of that office.”
The firm’s revenue reached $8.8 million last year. Its growth has been across the board, Webre said, not just in the Bay Area. Dreyfuss + Blackford also has seen new contracts with the State of California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, PG&E and other entities, he said.
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“Len Blackford designed it in 1959, and it was built in 1961,” Webre said. “It was what launched really the careers of Al Dreyfuss and Len Blackford. Before that, we were doing good work but smaller in stature and smaller in size....That building was on the cover of the Real Estate section of the Sunday New York Times.”
The facade of this midcentury gem will not be disturbed in the renovation, Webre said. The firm was asked to help SMUD create a space that is conducive to running a nimble, connected workforce. They are opening up spaces that now look like a rabbit’s warren of offices, Webre explained, and creating convening spaces where employees can collaborate.
For PG&E, Webre said, the firm is designing a gas operations training center in the Bay Area. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the firm’s work in that region. Dreyfuss + Blackford also is working on master plans for a Solano County government center, designing a transit center in Oakland, leading the design renovation of a hospital in St. Helena and more.
This is not the first time that the firm has ventured into the Bay Area market. Dreyfuss + Blackford established an office there in the early 1970s to do design work at San Francisco Airport and remained in the city for about a decade. At one time, Webre said, they had as many as 30 people in that office. They left the city in 1982 amid frustrations over permitting.
Today, the firm employs 39 people, up from 26 in May 2015. Scott Shannon, a partner in Dreyfuss + Blackford for seven years, is managing the firm’s San Francisco office. He is a longtime resident of the Bay Area and had been commuting to Sacramento for work at D+B, Webre said.
The partners are looking to hire three more people for the San Francisco operation by the end of 2016, Webre said. The principal reason for returning to San Franciso, he said, was for geographic diversity.
“We weathered a very rough recession, a recession that had very, very little work in the Central Valley, and we really hungered for some good, quality work,” Webre said. “It was more than a recession in the design and construction community. We really thought long and hard about not wanting to go there again.”
When the firm experienced a similar Central Valley downturn in the 1970s, Webre said, it was the Bay Area business that sustained the operation. The firm’s leadership also felt that opening a San Francisco office would signal its willingness to take on work further away, Webre said. It gained wider interest in 2013 when the American Institute of Architects California Council recognized Dreyfuss + Blackford as the Firm of the Year for the Golden State, he said.