Bringing Design-Build Expertise to the Public Sector

Sinanian Development, Inc.
Written by Jen Hocken

A pillar of general contracting and development in Southern California, Sinanian has a rich history of servicing public and private sector clients, showcasing 36 years of achievements. Now the company brings its expertise to the wave of the future: design-build projects.

Originally founded by three brothers in 1983 as a development firm, Sinanian Development added a general contracting division approximately one decade later. “It’s a company that started with three brothers and has grown to a company of 80 people, and we’re proud of the track record that we’ve obtained over the course of our history,” says Serge Sinanian, Executive Vice President at Sinanian Development. “We’ve never abandoned a project, we’ve never been terminated on a project, and we’ve finished every project we’ve started.” The firm’s exceptional track record speaks for itself in the industry.

Construction is a complex and demanding discipline, and the talented staff at Sinanian Development possesses the diverse range of skill sets required – including engineering, architecture, project management, quality control, labor compliance, accounting, and safety – to compete in this demanding field. The principles of the family-owned firm shine through its people who operate in full awareness of the prevailing attitude – that each one is the face of the company to clients and consultants.

High stakes
“In the face of challenges and high-stakes environments of the projects we build, we’re always of the mindset that we want to serve our clients and deliver a quality product, and really what we have to sell to our clients is our expertise and our knowledge in doing these types of projects,” explains Serge.

Having faced down the pitfalls and steep learning curves of countless complex projects, and not only surviving but thriving, there’s no doubt that Sinanian Development can genuinely lay claim to vast and hard-earned expertise in the shape of its skilled employees .

A booming industry
The construction industry is presently booming in L.A., which has enabled Sinanian Development to successfully compete for larger projects upwards of 100 million dollars. Previously operating in the 40- to 50-million-dollar range of projects, the firm has been able to expand its employee numbers and diversify its opportunities. It is now open to bidding on all sorts of new projects since many require experience with projects of similar scope and value.

“When you complete more sizable projects and successfully deliver them on time and on budget, then [you] can confidently compete for similar type work. We think that we are poised for doing that here in the next couple of years as the market continues to be a hot construction market,” says Serge.

Ten years ago, the challenges were different: banks were nervous about funding developers; public works slowed down; people were wary of seeking bond measures; and it was difficult to find new work since there were fewer projects to bid for. However, the survivors in the construction industry in L.A., like Sinanian, weathered the full cycle from recession to today’s recovery, and are the stronger for it.

A busy construction market comes with its share of challenges, however. Requisite materials and resources for each project are harder to obtain, and are frequently more expensive, prices being driven by the law of supply and demand. Additionally, the qualified pool of subcontractors shrinks since reputable contractors are often unavailable, having taken on other competing projects. And obtaining and retaining qualified employees becomes more difficult in a tight labor market, especially at a time when it is mission-critical to retain talent in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. Recruiters are always trying to poach personnel and companies have to give their people genuine reason to stick around.

In addition to the supply and demand issues surrounding labor and materials, today’s obstacles for contractors include major political concerns, ranging from government-imposed tariffs on imported products, to the reclassification of independent contractors as employees. Skillfully anticipating the potential sea changes in political environments when bidding on projects and discussing the budget with clients helps experienced contractors like Sinanian avoid budget shortfalls and failed project objectives. Construction is a challenging world, but nevertheless, this is where experience shows its value.

Fast-forward to design-build
One area the firm is placing emphasis on is the “design-build delivery” method of construction. This is where Sinanian Development can take advantage of its experience to expertly control the entire design phase, and subsequent, integrated construction phase, with client input throughout. Although this method is more common in the private sector with apartments, mixed-use, and commercial buildings, it is becoming popular in public projects, particularly with school districts.

As a major part of its public sector portfolio, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) are frequent clients of the firm. As one of the largest school districts in the United States (second only to the New York City Department of Education), the LAUSD has many schools in various stages of construction. These construction projects vary from modernization to complete demolition and reconstruction of older schools in L.A.

Sinanian Development is currently the design-builder on a sizable project for the LAUSD. Of course, the crux of this delivery method is that Sinanian takes complete responsibility for hiring and orchestrating the array of architects, consultants, and construction specialists to design and build the 90-million-dollar project.

“It shifts the risk a lot towards our side because we’re undertaking the design and construction, and the owner is hiring us to complete it for the price that they’ve bargained for, and the duration that they’ve dictated, and we as the design-builder have to make it happen within that time and budget,” says Serge.

Nevertheless, greater responsibility also means greater opportunity, and the company is specifically targeting these large design-build projects as the public sector continues to adapt and open up to design-build contracting.

Another modern construction trend is prefabrication of components. Sinanian Development is a leading proponent of this and regularly produces and installs prefabricated wall panels, well received by its customers. Coming up next, the company is developing fully prefabricated units that already embody the mechanical and electrical components and so can be placed directly into apartments under construction.

This type of unit is unsuited to any architecturally or aesthetically highly complex building, but is ideal for large-scale projects that are of similar or modular construction throughout, such as cookie-cutter apartments, hotels, and affordable housing units. “Eventually we are hoping to be able to prefabricate entire units, and basically put them in place to save on time and cost for our clients,” says Serge.

The tougher the better
Sinanian enjoys tackling the toughest construction challenges in order to learn about optimal solutions. It is eager to undertake the most complex projects and also projects that may not be complicated in construction yet present other obstacles, like, for instance, a highly active campus. The logistics of deliveries, phasing, and maneuvering around students and staff on campus are all challenges that the firm is accustomed to taking in its stride.

West Hollywood is a city world-renowned for its entertainment and nightlife. One of Sinanian’s current high-profile projects is West Hollywood Park Phase II, to be completed in the next couple of years. “We are smack in the middle of the city,” Serge says, “working in the West Hollywood Park, which is a really ambitious structure: it’s got an Olympic-sized pool on the roof of the four-story building over a basketball gymnasium, over another floor of offices and community spaces.”

Sinanian is also in the midst of developing 1,500 units of affordable housing across three separate projects in Orange County: First Point Apartments, Metro East Apartments, and Garden Brook Senior Village. “In Los Angeles County and Orange County,” Serge says, “affordable housing is at a minimum and I think the same is true throughout the nation.” In addition, the firm has completed a total of over 500 units of affordable housing in Los Angeles County in the last seven years.

Success now and into the future
Among Sinanian’s many projects are some worthy award winners. Recently, the company completed the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Bus Maintenance and Compressed Natural Gas Fueling Facility which is a LEED Platinum building. “We’re proud of the sustainable nature of the building and it’s received several awards from different publications and engineering groups for its innovation, and aesthetic and functional features,” Serge says.

In particular, Sinanian Development takes great pride in the educational buildings it has constructed. School projects always bring the team members a sense of fulfillment because they are providing innovative solutions to supporting a well-rounded, quality education for the community’s students.

Looking ahead, the company will maintain its focus on educational ventures, as well as affordable housing and public works. And especially, in the exciting, still developing field of design-build contracting, Sinanian looks to the future with the firm intention of consolidating its position as a recognized leader in the industry.



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