Architects decide to remain downtown Development Design had eyed other cities

November 03, 1995|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Development Design Group Inc., an international architectural

and planning firm with projects valued at more than $1 billion under way worldwide, has elected to remain downtown rather than relocate its expanding headquarters to another city.

Prior to an agreement with the owners of the 19-story Signet Tower, a transaction approved late Wednesday, Development Design had considered moving to either Washington, D.C., or Orlando, Fla., because those cities offered attractive amenities, easy airplane access and a higher profile image for the firm's international clients.

"Downtown has been good to us," said Roy H. Higgs, Development Design's chief executive officer. "And as people talk about the deterioration of the city, we realized it wouldn't help the situation any if we moved out. And economically, we found we could make a better deal."

Under terms of its lease with Signet Bancorp, the firm will occupy 31,000 square feet in the top two floors of the 7 St. Paul St. building through 2003, at a cost of roughly $3.5 million.

The firm's move from the 12-story Sun Life Building at 20 S. Charles St., where it now leases 17,000 square feet, will occur at the end of the year, said Dennis P. Malone, a Colliers Pinkard LTC executive vice president who together with Pinkard Vice President David Downey brokered the transaction.

Roughly 100 Development Design administrative employees and designers will be affected by the move.

Signet, a Richmond, Va.-based banking company that has over the past year been shifting operations to its home base and Columbia to cut costs, intends to relocate operations from the top floors to others within the 374,000-square-foot tower.

Signet's lease runs through 2006.

"The top two floors of the building are clearly excess to how the bank plans to operate in the future, so this works for everybody," said Donald G. Taylor, a managing director of Trammell Crow Co., the Dallas-based development company which completed the tower in 1986.

Given the scope of Development Design's design work -- 65 percent of which is in countries such as Indonesia, Turkey, China and South Africa -- the firm could be located anywhere, Mr. Higgs said.

Most recently, Development Design was selected to plan and design a 1.8 million-square-foot shopping mall in Silver Spring, a retail mecca being developed by the Canadian group behind the enormous Mall of America, the nation's largest mall, in Minneapolis.

After searching the suburbs and other cities, though, Mr. Higgs and his partners decided Development Design would remain downtown, where it has been since its founding 17 years ago.

"A lot of our work is in an urban setting, so we think it's important to be located in an urban area ourselves," Mr. Higgs said.

The Sun Life Building was unable to accommodate the firm's growth -- from $7.2 million in revenues last year to a projected $8.4 million in 1995 -- because of a lack of available and contiguous space.

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