Empire Corporation of Tennessee Inc.
Empire Corporation of Tennessee Inc. (Empire) has no desire to be an average, run-of-the-mill construction company. For 35 years, the Knoxville-based general contractor and developer has gone above and beyond client expectations. “We don’t want to be a typical construction company that looks at a drawing, builds it, then walks away,” explains Drew Sutherland, project manager for Empire. “We work with owners to say here’s what’s drawn, here’s the issue and here’s what we can do to fix it and prevent change orders in the first place. We don’t want to build something that isn’t usable for the owner.”
For Empire, it’s about building more than a project, but also trust. The company’s mission is to be good stewards by developing people and building community with the values of service, respect, excellence, commitment and integrity. This is how it has been since 1980 when Steve Hall founded the multidiscipline firm.
“Steve started Empire as a paving company,” recalls Rick Cheverton, president of Empire. “We ventured into major rehab construction about 12 years ago and more substantial rehab on low income tax credit properties. In the last five to six years we started buying our own market-rate apartment facilities and we also build, operate and manage assisted-living and memory-care facilities. Steve is still our CEO and remains active in Empire.”
To support the firm’s growth and diversification, Empire formed two divisions in addition to the original construction branch. “We now have Dominion Development and Dominion Management,” shares Cheverton. “We now own 12 apartment communities and we’re building four assisted-living facilities this year. We just finished our third; the goal is to build three or four a year.”
Owner-operators in a specialized niche
As a general contractor, developer, owner and operator, Empire wears many hats. “We are now owners and operators from apartment complexes to assisted-living and memory-care buildings and we’re very strategic in our approach,” explains Cheverton. “Empire performs a market analysis to assess where the need is first.”
Based in Knoxville, Tenn., Empire is fully licensed in 26 states across the nation. “Empire employs approximately 100 people on the construction side and 100 on the development side,” estimates Cheverton. “In the case of low-income housing, we build new apartments and perform rehabs from Florida up through New York and all the way down to Texas. It’s a competitive segment to be in, but we have been doing it for 12 years now and we have developed the technique, management and experienced team to be highly successful.”
Putting people first
Empire’s line of work, especially in adaptive reused and rehab projects, puts the company in active, lived-in environments on a regular basis. “We have to be willing to work with and around people and that’s where our expertise and finesse comes in,” says Cheverton.
“We’re building four assisted-living and memory-care facilities this year,” he continues. “These projects typically have 60 to 70 beds and last up to 10 months.” In the case of Wilderness Trail, a recently completed apartment project, Empire found itself in the midst of residents and staff to complete a sizable rehab.
“The construction process at Wilderness Trail went very smoothly,” recounts Randy Braund, project manager for Empire. “The residents were understanding of the construction process and were tolerable of us being in their building. Two major challenges were the tight site, which did not allow for much on-site storage. We had to use just-in-time ordering. The piping in the building was also an issue as it ran from the first floor to the top in stacks. We elected to do the piping work on each floor and each unit as we worked our way down.”
As with most projects, there is always a challenge or intricacy that requires Empire’s expert attention. “We perform a wide range of work, some rehabs are $12 to $15 million, others are only $2 million, but they all have their tricks,” adds Cheverton. “Some have specific environmental and historical requirements. It depends on the structure. Low-income housing can be converted from historical buildings, in which case we need to take into account historical architectural features while making a modern housing setting.”
In 2008, Empire completed a full interior-exterior rehab at the $18.5 million Park Commons in Atlanta, Ga. “Empire has delivered everything from site work to community center construction and a 10,000-square-foot club house with a swimming pool and new playground and park,” details Cheverton. “We made walking paths at the community park and installed a new security gate at the entryway.”
Even into 2009, amid the onset of the recession, Empire continued to focus on building safe, comfortable communities. “Our revenues dropped significantly in 2009 on the construction side, but we’re looking to build back up to where we were and we’re getting there,” reveals Cheverton. “Our biggest challenge is to continue staffing quality, qualified people for all of the work we’re blessed with and finding subcontractors and vendors to supply the amount of work at the level of quality we expect.”
After 35 years, Empire Corporation of Tennessee Inc. remains a leading general contractor and developer, focused and committed to building up communities and supporting people no matter the size or shape of the facility.
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