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Growth prompts Barr Engineering’s move to Canal Park in Duluth

Barr Engineering celebrated its new digs at 325 S. Lake Ave. in Duluth on Friday with a ribbon-cutting attended by local officials, business people and staff members. (Bob King / / 6
Sheryl Filby Williams of Barr Engineering Co. struggles to cut a ceremonial ribbon on Friday during a celebration of the company’s new location at the Waterfront Plaza in Canal Park. Others are (from left) Duluth Mayor Don Ness, David Ross of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Shannon Riley with Frauenshuh Inc., Bill Forsmark with Barr and Dan Meierhoff, the building owner. (Bob King / / 6
Duluth Mayor Don Ness (right) enjoys the views of Lake Superior and Canal Park through the large windows at Barr Engineering’s new offices. He was touring the business on Friday with Alina Heydt (left), an environmental engineer for Barr, and Angela Dougherty, a member of the Chamber of Commerce. (Bob King / 3 / 6
Former warehouse space for Marshall Wells Hardware Co., shown here in November, was transformed into modern offices for Barr Engineering Co. in Duluth. (2013 file / News Tribune) 4 / 6
Al Reich, an environmental specialist, tends to business at his new work space at Barr Engineering on Friday afternoon. (Bob King / / 6
Kyle Erickson (left) and Jim Abrahamson with Max Gray Construction, the company that renovated the old warehouse space into Barr Engineering’s new offices, discuss the results after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday. (Bob King / / 6

At its downtown Duluth offices, Barr Engineering Co. had run out of space.

They were crowded. Some employees were sharing cubicles. And with staff spread over four floors, teamwork on projects was more challenging.

The employee-owned company had ballooned from 20 employees at its Duluth office in 2006 to 88 at the end of 2012. Its growth would continue as demand increased for its engineering and environmental consulting.

“As the industries grow, we have grown along with them,” explained Sheryl Filby Williams, who manages the Duluth office.

Barr, based in Minneapolis, also has offices in Hibbing, North Dakota, Michigan, Missouri and Canada, employing a total of 700 people. The company’s work helping clients in the power, mining and fuel industries and in natural resources management has included contaminated site cleanup, dam projects, the design of buildings and wastewater treatment systems.

 With its space crunch in the Providence Building at 332 W. Superior St., where Barr had been for 17 years, the search for a bigger location in the downtown area began three years ago.

Now, after six months of construction, Barr Engineering — now with 110 employees — is settling into its new home on two expansive floors of the Waterfront Plaza in Canal Park. At 40,000 square feet, it’s big enough to accommodate 40 more employees as the company grows. About 30 empty cubicles are already set up, awaiting staff additions, with room for more.

Industrial roots

On Friday, staff members and officials gathered to celebrate Barr’s new offices with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

“We were fortunate to find this space,” said Bill Forsmark, Barr’s director of business development and communications. “It’s important to have that space where we can work together.”

Barr has the entire fifth floor and much of the seventh floor of the former Marshall-Wells Hardware Co. warehouse.

The company invested more than $1 million in its new space. It was gutted and remodeled, with work led by Max Gray Construction in Hibbing; new windows, walls and carpeting were installed, along with new electrical, heating and air conditioning systems.

The floors then were transformed into sleek, modern work spaces designed by HGA Architects of Minneapolis. There are plenty of conference rooms, amenities and stunning views of Lake Superior and Canal Park.

On the seventh floor — the building’s top floor — an industrial feel is maintained with exposed steel beans and bricks, and high ceilings that peak even higher where there once were skylights.

“This building has a long history in Duluth,” Filby Williams said. “We didn’t want to hide it.”

The result is a hit with staff.

“I’m loving it,” said nine-year employee Tony Shoberg, an environmental specialist. “I like the open layout of the office. Obviously, the views are incredible. Everything is modern and new.”

Nancy Dent, a civil engineer with Barr for 25 years and the board chair, called the new offices “amazing.”

“It’s better than some of our other offices,” she said. “It’s much more suited for our size. It’s better for collaboration. We used to be on four separate floors, now we’re only on two. It gives us a better chance to talk to each other.”

The right fit

For their relocation, Barr considered several sites downtown and in Canal Park, guided by a survey on staff preferences.

“We cast a wide net,” Filby Williams said. “We quickly found out there was not a lot that would fit us.”

The potential sites included the new Maurices corporate headquarters under construction with completion expected in early 2016.

“In the end, the timing wasn’t right,” Filby Williams said. “Our lease was up in July.”

The Waterfront Plaza, at 325 S. Lake Ave., had the space they needed on fewer floors and with room for growth. Moreover, staff members had said in the survey that they wanted to be in Canal Park, she said.

A new era begins

For building owner Dan Meierhoff, gaining a tenant like Barr Engineering with a 10-year lease means a new phase for the historic structure, which also houses The Suites Hotel on the first four floors, and condominiums on the sixth floor and part of the seventh floor.

The Meierhoff family, which has run the building for 40 years, had moved its office tenants out in 2004 to convert the upper floors into condominiums. But before the project was complete, the market changed and the recession hit, leaving 1½ floors undeveloped.

“A lot of condos had popped up in Duluth in a short amount of time,” Meierhoff said.

The AtWater Group, which works in commercial real estate, moved in for a while, and they introduced Barr Engineering to the space. A lease agreement was reached late last year.

“We’re very excited for the whole building,” Meierhoff said. “The building is completely full now. When we changed focus, we thought it would take 10 years to fill the building. It took two years.”

With more than 100 employees, Barr needed a lot of parking. But with the help of the city, they have that covered.

Besides parking behind the building, the Duluth Economic Development Authority agreed to a 10-year lease for the nearby Steam Plant and Irvin lots from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday when the lots were little used.

But with many of Barr’s employees young and active, some are biking to work, where a locker room and showers are available for their use, Forsmark said.

“We do a lot of alternative commuting to work,” he said.

Friday was the first time some employees paddled to work by canoe and kayak to the slip behind the building.

Shoberg was one of the kayakers. They paddled from Brighton Beach for the exercise and, well, because they could. And, he said, there will be more paddling to work in the days ahead.