When Steven Carmina parted ways with Phil Silvestri to form his own architecture and engineering firm with Christopher Wood two decades ago, he had high hopes for his new venture and Western New York.
But he couldn’t have known that their company, Carmina Wood Morris, would also be at the center of much of Buffalo’s high-profile real estate redevelopment that involves renovating old buildings.
Today, that firm is a 35-person team of architects, engineers, and interior designers, working out of a downtown Buffalo office on Main Street that Carmina purchased and renovated. .
Carmina, Jonathan Morris and the other architects work on adaptive reuse projects around the city, while Wood and seven other engineers are regularly hired for civil works, mostly for other architects and suburban subdivisions. Pamela Straitiff, another company founder, leads a team of seven interior designers.
“That’s what we thought 20 years ago would be the potential for us,” Carmina said. “All the things that happened were the things we wanted, but we had to be patient to wait for it to happen.”
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Today, the company is experiencing its first major changes. Morris, who turned 65 last fall, has sold his stake and is gradually entering phased retirement. This allowed the company to rename itself Carmina Wood Design.
“It just freed me up to do what I love most and freed me from a lot of the responsibilities of running the business,” said Morris, who joined the business in March 2004. “I I’m still involved, and I’m still working with everyone and maintaining certain customer relationships that are important to me and helping wherever I can.”
This is just the first in a series of moves that will transition the company into the next generation while expanding into new markets in other parts of the country.
Carmina, 66, remains chairman and chief executive, but he is also taking the first steps towards his eventual retirement by gradually divesting himself of his stake. Within a year, Wood, 53, will be the majority owner.
Leadership of the architectural practice, meanwhile, passed to co-managing directors Paul Lang — a West Seneca native known for his work on the central terminal — and Brian J. Slevar, a 41-year-old North Tonawanda native. who spent 20 years in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, North Carolina
Lang, 38, is an expert in historic preservation and renovation projects, having developed a reputation in 14 years of working locally since the state introduced its own historic tax credits.
Slevar – who interned at Carmina before heading south – previously worked for three different architectural firms and a major developer in the southeast, and honed his skills in designing grassroots development projects .
“I’m the new construction guy,” Slevar said. “He’s the historical renovation and adaptive reuse guy, which is a good dynamic for us.”
Slevar also brought in his former clients and employer from the Carolinas. This brought Carmina to Greensboro, allowing the company to enter a market where historic preservation is not as common.
In turn, these clients are now using Carmina Wood for jobs in other states, such as Montana, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee.
As a result, the company opened an office in Greensboro. And it will consist of a well-known face in historic preservation circles – Julian Adams, a southerner who joined Carmina after recently retiring as director of community preservation services at the State Historic Preservation Office. This will help raise the profile of the company’s historic preservation work, another goal of its leaders.
Adams also brings an eye for identifying new targets for historical reuse. So, instead of waiting for customers to bring projects, the company can now present them with proposals. It already has projects in Michigan and Missouri, and a list of 32 former factories in North Carolina.
“The brand is more representative of where we are now,” Lang said. “We are no longer a design boutique. We are a bigger and still growing company.”