After bankruptcy, C.C. Myers standing tall in Fix50 project

C.C. Myers is back in his element, riding herd once again on the reconstruction of a major California freeway, assuring anxious commuters and Caltrans officials that he’ll finish the job quickly.

The overhaul of Highway 50 in Sacramento isn’t just another job for Myers and Sons Construction; it’s also a leg on Myers’ personal comeback journey.

Barely four years ago, the prominent barrel-chested Sacramento contractor had to start over. A disastrous real estate deal had plunged him into personal bankruptcy and cost him his share of his previous company, C.C. Myers Inc.

Two decades removed from his greatest success, in which he repaired the earthquake-damaged Santa Monica Freeway weeks ahead of schedule, Myers gathered his son Clinton and started his new company. Myers and Sons was born a month before Myers’ 72nd birthday.

“I wasn’t ready to retire yet,” Myers said. “I’d go nuts if I retired.”

On the second day of the Fix50 project last week, Myers and his son sat in their Natomas headquarters and talked about overcoming bankruptcy and going back to work. The elder Myers, gruff and gravel-voiced, spoke in the matter-of-fact language many in his generation use when asked about their troubles.

“It hurts to go through what I went through, but you know you’ve got to get over it, put it behind you, move on,” said Myers, now 76. “The way I look at it, a lot of other people went down in this time, a lot of people went down. I’m a hell of a lot better off than most people. I came out of it back on my feet, moving forward.”

Founded in early 2010, Myers and Sons ramped up quickly. In 2011, it sold a 50 percent interest in the company to a big Houston contractor, Sterling Construction Co. Inc., and Sterling’s financial backing has helped Myers and Sons grow. Besides Fix50, the Sacramento company has snared multimillion-dollar state Department of Transportation projects in Los Angeles, Stockton, West Sacramento and elsewhere.

Sterling’s investment seems to have paid off. It spent just $1.2 million for its share of Myers. Last year, the Sacramento company generated operating profit of $3.8 million on revenue of $82.4 million, according to Sterling’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Sterling was entitled to half the profit.

The Myers family certainly isn’t complaining about the arrangement. Contractors have to post bonds to guarantee their work, and Sterling’s massive bonding capacity enabled Myers to take on projects it probably wouldn’t have been able to get on its own, said Clinton Myers, who is vice president of the company.

“They have a pretty big balance sheet,” he said. “It always helps to have that in your corner.”

Brian Manning, an executive vice president at Sterling, said the Myers investment has given the Houston company an entry into the California market. C.C. Myers’ personal financial woes didn’t make Sterling leery.

“No trepidation, because we did our due diligence,” Manning said by email. “C.C. is respected because of his ability to deliver projects in rapid fashion.”

Fix50, which began Tuesday, is a $46 million project for which the Myers company will be paid around $17 million. Myers could earn up to $3 million in bonuses for early completion, and would face up to $3 million in penalties if the project runs late.

In his interview with The Bee, the elder Myers said Fix50 was already ahead of schedule. As the interview concluded, he learned of a freak accident on the freeway that sent two of the company’s employees and a Caltrans worker to the hospital. He looked stricken by the news, and he and his son headed out to the site. The injuries turned out not to be serious.

A day later, Clinton Myers said the accident didn’t significantly affect work progress. “It was confined to one part of the job,” he said.

Fix50 involves rebuilding the cracking road deck by grinding down the surface and laying a series of concrete slabs on top. Workers also will reinforce 100 concrete pillars supporting the overpass to meet seismic safety standards. The project is scheduled to last two months.

Viewed purely in construction terms, it’s a pretty standard job, father and son said. “It’s not that big a deal,” C.C. Myers said.

But the logistics, including an intricate schedule of lane and ramp closures, pose a significant challenge. “It’s all the pieces that go with it,” C.C. Myers said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult jobs we’ve done as far as putting it all together.”

Myers’ exploits are the stuff of legends in the construction business.

“His ingenuity to get things done so fast ... is known globally,” said Kit Miyamoto of Miyamoto International, a big West Sacramento structural engineering firm.

A farm kid from San Bernardino, Myers said he “found my love” at age 16 when he discovered the construction business. He left home to work in Long Beach. He eventually made his way to North Highlands, where he founded a contracting firm with his brother and another partner in 1973. The business was sold, and four years later he founded C.C. Myers Inc., based in Rancho Cordova.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake sealed Myers’ reputation. The company repaired the Santa Monica Freeway in just 66 days – 74 days early. He earned a $15 million bonus from Caltrans and a thank- you from then-Vice President Al Gore, who attended the ribbon-cutting when the freeway reopened.

Other big-time projects followed. In 2007, Myers successfully tackled two big Bay Area jobs: the seismic retrofit of the old Bay Bridge and the reconstruction of the MacArthur Maze near Oakland, which had buckled after a gasoline truck exploded. In 2008, Myers snagged a $3 million Caltrans bonus for repairing Interstate 5 in downtown Sacramento ahead of schedule.

As he was shoring up I-5, his personal finances were crumbling. His development of an old hunting preserve near Auburn into Winchester Country Club, an opulent golf-course residential community, had turned into a nightmare as the housing market collapsed.

The development was a gem, with premium lots expected to sell for $1 million, but analysts said Myers overestimated demand. Although he had a home-building business, Myers said in an interview last year that Winchester was a project where “I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Myers and his creditors lost millions of dollars; Winchester was taken over by a Colorado investment firm specializing in distressed real estate. Myers salvaged something from the project: the 8,000-square-foot home he was building at Winchester. It was taken over by a bank, but Myers bought it back for $650,000. It has become his primary residence.

What he couldn’t save was his share of C.C. Myers Inc. As part of the bankruptcy, his 45 percent stake was sold to the company’s employee stock ownership plan, with proceeds going to creditors, in late 2009.

Myers and his son waited all of two months to start their new company. “Quite a few” workers from the old company joined them, the elder Myers said. “We didn’t solicit them; they came on their own.”

His old company is still in business, still called C.C. Myers Inc., and is a direct competitor with his new company. Officials there could not be reached for comment, but Clinton Myers said the two firms maintain an “amicable relationship.” And his father insisted there’s nothing strange about competing against his namesake.

“It don’t bother us a bit,” he said with a grin. “Stuff happens.”

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