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Merger of local firms creates architectural powerhouse

Brian Hartz



The leadership team of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, from left: Todd Willsie, Ed Hoffman, Jason Jensen and Harold Somarriba.

St. Petersburg-based Wannemacher Jensen Architects has merged with Hoffman Architects, headquartered in Tarpon Springs. The deal brings together two of Pinellas County’s most venerable, locally owned design architecture firms and creates a new company that boasts significant strengths in municipal, museum and education projects.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but WJA principal Jason Jensen, speaking with the Catalyst, said Hoffman Architects will become a subsidiary of WJA. The Hoffman Architects office in Tarpon Springs will be renamed the Wannemacher Jensen Architects Hoffman Studio, with Todd Willsie serving as studio director. Hoffman Architects founder Ed Hoffman will remain a principal of the newly merged company, Jensen said.

“They are a well-rounded design firm,” he said, “and they do have a particular focus in public schools, but they’ve also done fire stations; they’ve done the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art; they just have a wide breadth of work, a lot of residential work, as well. They just have a great presence in northern Pinellas County, Hernando County and Pasco County that legitimately extends our reach north.”

Composed of a museum, art studios, classrooms, an auditorium and a campus library, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs is situated on a hillside overlooking a small reflecting lake to maximize community exposure for both students and the public.

Jensen said geographical diversity was a key consideration. WJA, with annual revenue of $4.5 million and a staff of 21, also has an office in Miami but had been wanting to pursue work in other parts of Florida.

The deal also made a lot of sense because of the friendship of Jensen and Hoffman. The two met via the Leadership Pinellas program, Jensen said, and quickly hit it off.

“He and I have known each other for a long time,” Jensen said. “About a year ago, we started talking in earnest about joining forces to give ourselves a competitive advantage.”

Hoffman Architects, with $2.1 million in annual revenue and six employees, provided architectural design services for Quail Hollow Elementary School in Pasco County, Palmetto Elementary School in Manatee County, 16 elementary schools in Pinellas County, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs, the Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center and the Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy.

WJA, meanwhile, focuses on everything from office buildings, museums and schools to restaurants, mixed-use complexes and entertainment facilities. Among the firm’s well-known projects are the St. Petersburg Pier Approach, the Phillies Carpenter Complex, the James Museum, the St. Petersburg College Student Success Center and the Madeira Beach Municipal Complex.

“Our firm has grown a tremendous amount,” Jensen said, “but Ed has such a wealth of knowledge in public education and higher education, and we really wanted to expand more into that area.”

Jensen said the merger will allow he and Hoffman to land projects that they might not have been able to compete for as independent firms. Although both companies boast decades of experience — Hoffman was founded in 1981, WJA in 1992 — longevity isn’t always a deciding factor for clients who are evaluating architectural design bids.

“In architecture,” Jensen said, “it’s based on past projects. You could be great at a particular type of project, but if you don’t have experience in another …”

Take public schools, for example, Jensen said. “We have some great education work, but it needs to be in public schools when you’re selected and your experience is calculated. Farther back in our past, we did work for Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School and Maximo Elementary School, but then we stepped away from public schools for what I believe was too long.”

Jensen said WJA plans to seek out additional merger and acquisition opportunities as it looks to further strengthen and diversify its offerings.

“Some areas of the state have local preference requirements, such as Sarasota County,” he said, “which leads to the question of whether there are opportunities in specific regions that make sense, although we have been successful at growing in south Florida without an acquisition, based on our portfolio and experience. We’ve been in discussions and looked at two other firms in the past, from either a regional or typology standpoint, but this was the first one that made real good sense to us.”

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