Design firm sold to Dutch company

RTKL, key to city's renewal effort, looks to expand globally

July 07, 2007|By Allison Connolly and June Arney | Allison Connolly and June Arney,Sun reporters

RTKL Associates Inc., the homegrown architecture firm that has put its stamp on much of the region as well as worldwide projects including the Beijing Olympics, has been sold to a Dutch engineering and consulting company.

ARCADIS, which specializes in environmental remediation, infrastructure and property development, announced yesterday that it had bought the privately held Baltimore firm for an undisclosed sum.

RTKL Chairman Paul Jacob III said the firm had been thinking about pursuing a merger for some time as a means to grow more rapidly globally. It hadn't considered being acquired until ARCADIS came along with an unsolicited offer.

"It's much more difficult to expand globally than across the nation," Jacob said. "While we certainly had success, the pace at which we had been going was slow."

Over its six decades, RTKL has left a lasting imprint on the Baltimore area, designing buildings large and small and helping to shape the city's revitalization. When Baltimore initiated downtown renewal, RTKL designed the master plan for Charles Center and later was heavily involved in the emergence of the Inner Harbor. Among its buildings are the Hyatt Regency hotel, one of the early structures to rise along Light Street; the tower at 750 West Pratt, now headquarters of Constellation Energy Group; and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, which it co-designed.

Its influence pushes east and west. It created the master plan for the Camden Yards sports complex and is the architect for the Hilton convention hotel now rising next to Oriole Park. And as development migrated eastward, it drew the plans for the Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point and then moved in, forsaking the soaring tower it had designed at South and Baltimore streets. It employs about 150 there now.

Its reach extended to Baltimore's suburbs and beyond. In the 1950s, it designed the East Coast's first enclosed shopping mall, Harundale, in Glen Burnie for developer James Rouse and decades later fashioned The Avenue at White Marsh, the first "Main Street" type retail center in the Baltimore region. Its work also includes the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson and the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore.

ARCADIS plans to keep RTKL intact as a subsidiary, with existing management and staff in place, and has vowed to invest capital in the firm to help it grow. At first, RTKL officials were skeptical, Jacob said, especially since the industry has seen a spate of mergers and acquisitions lately and the firm had received several overtures already. But after speaking with other subsidiaries that ARCADIS had recently acquired, Jacob and the other vice presidents who held the company's shares realized ARCADIS meant what it said.

"It seemed perfect," he said.

Harrie Noy, chief executive officer of ARCADIS, said there is no reason to make changes; the company has built a brand and reputation globally that he has long admired from afar.

"RTKL is a worldwide company in architecture and urban planning," Noy said. "We do not have these types of services at ARCADIS."

ARCADIS has more than 11,500 employees, including 3,700 in the U.S. Last year, the publicly traded company reported revenue of 1.2 billion euros. The company, which has operated in the United States for a half-century, has added 2,500 employees and 80 offices here in just the Past five years, mostly through acquisitions. This year the company had a goal of adding 1,000, which it should accomplish with the acquisition of RTKL.

"We think the combination of our businesses will benefit both of us," Noy said.

Together, they plan to go after major urban design projects around the world, something RTKL has made great strides toward, particularly in China, Noy said.

With 1,100 professionals and support staff in 10 offices and gross revenue of $195 million last year, RTKL has been involved in high-profile projects around the world. It redesigned the portion of the Pentagon that was damaged during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Internationally, it was on the design team that helped Beijing win the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Harold L. Adams, who spent more than 35 years at RTKL and is credited with helping to elevate the firm to the international prominence it holds today, had mixed emotions over yesterday's news.

"There's a great deal of consolidation going on in all businesses," he said. "It does not surprise me, but it does surprise me. We had been fiercely independent and wanted to stay independent for many years. [But] The growth of other companies in the international marketplace is almost mandating this."

Between 1967 and November 2003, Adams served in a variety of roles at RTKL, including president, CEO and chairman. It was a period when the company's employment base grew from 45 to 1,000, he said.

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