How Burns & McDonnell and VanTrust turned a synagogue into a $90M showcase

MetroWire Media - Original Article
September 23, 2015

At the former home of the Beth Shalom Synagogue at the intersection of Wornall and Bannister Road, a flurry of 190 construction workers are quickly putting together the first phase of Burns & McDonnell's $90 million headquarters expansion project to debut in the Spring of 2016.  It's a joint venture between VanTrust Real Estate and Burns & McDonnell, who is using the massive project to showcase its ability to build and engineer a Class A office product.

The expansion project will consist of a total of 450,000 square feet of office space - 300,000 square feet in the first phase and 150,000 square feet in the second - and will allow the local engineering company to add 2,100 employees over the next 10 years.  As part of the joint venture, Burns & McDonnell will serve as both the tenant and the general contractor.

But before Burns & McDonnell was part of the conversation, VanTrust went through a number of iterations of plans for the site, originally intending to capitalize on a build-to-suit opportunity.  But before that could happen, Rich Muller of VanTrust would receive a letter from Historic Kansas City informing him that someone had applied to place synagogue which still sat on the property on the historic register.  Muller was able to strike a deal where VanTrust would preserve the building by documenting and archiving aspects of the building - but not before losing the build-to-suit opportunity.

Little did he know, neighbor Burns & McDonnell was steadily building up an impressive cohort of talent and had been eyeing the site since it went on the market.  The employee-owned company was doing well financially and as an ESOP, needed to make an investment that would pay off.

"They thought it'd be a real opportunity for them to control their destiny and be able to expand immediately next door in a building that is physically connected to the headquarters," Muller told members of CCIM Kansas City last week.  "I didn't realize Burns & McDonnell had built up such impressive talent on its commercial side, but part of their motivation was that they saw an opportunity to use this expansion as a showcase of the skills they had acquired and brought on board over the years to show the market what they were capable of in commercial."

With that, VanTrust had found its partner for its first joint venture.  Soon the two inked a deal that was "elegant in its simplicity," Muller said.  With Burns & McDonnell serving as the design-build contractor and tenant, the firm would benefit from working with one of the region's most respected developers, while VanTrust had peace of mind knowing that because of the checks and balances built into the deal, construction costs wouldn't get out of control.

The project boasts of sustainable design.  It's LEED certifiable (although the owners likely won't go through the certification process) and has HVAC systems that incorporate energy recovery technologies, electrical systems that utilize LED lighting and daylighting controls, and is made with specialized insulation, glazing and automatic window shades to reduce solar gain.

The first 300,000-square-foot phase should be completed by March 2016 and will add 1,400 employees.  All in all, the expansion will allow the complex to house a staggering 4,300 employee-owners.

Pat Murfey, CCIM specializes in Commercial Properties with Kansas City based real estate brokerage Evergreen Real Estate Services. Pat can be reached at 913-951-8402 or


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