Greenfire is extremely proud of what it has accomplished in just a little over a decade and we look forward to our role in building the future. We invite you to take a look at how we got there.
In honor of celebrating our company’s first decade, we look at the early years (2010 to 2013) and what Greenfire did to establish the company’s foundation. We asked Pepi Randolph, our Vice President of Business Development about launching Greenfire in 2010, and the years leading up to it. At the time, Randolph served as the CEO of our parent company, the Potawatomi Business Development Company (PBDC), and played a significant role in starting the company. Here’s what he had to share during a recent Q&A.
“At PBDC we always kept our eyes open for investment opportunities to either buy, or build companies to leverage the Tribe’s resources, status, and relationships. After seeing the role outside consultants were playing for the Tribe related to its real estate holdings and developments, and what the Tribe paid for those services, we believed we could build a team and develop the core competencies needed to deliver those same services to the Tribe. That was the initial intent. However, we saw an opportunity to deliver those same services to entities outside of the Tribe, including developers, business owners, other tribes, and municipal governments, but we needed to establish a track record first. Getting started with tribal projects, allowed us to do just that.”
“Our goal was to build a great team, develop the proper protocols and systems, and deliver on our value proposition to build Greenfire’s reputation through steady and controlled growth. By growing into a solid, profitable company, the goal for Greenfire was, and continues to be, to provide a double bottom line to the Tribe – to provide dividends upstream to support the Tribal government, and to allow the Tribe to keep and leverage its resources internally for a greater return.”
“Obtaining bonding was an initial roadblock and starting a construction company in a recessionary period was probably not the best timing.
Diversifying our client base and educating the industry about our capabilities were also big challenges. Greenfire had to build its early reputation through the Tribe’s work, but we also had to educate the market outside of the Tribe, so they knew we could build more than tribal projects. It took a while for the company to get its foot in the door of the industry, so to speak, but we got there!”
“As we entered 2014, Greenfire clearly progressed beyond the start-up phase, becoming a capable and respected construction management firm,” said Brian Kraus, Greenfire’s Chief Financial Officer, and one of the company’s original employees.
While the company was still engaged in multiple tribal projects at this time, the leadership team made enormous strides in achieving full diversification, securing significant non-tribal projects through Sherman Associates, Mandel Group and Wangard Partners among others. “This was the beginning of our foray into the multi-family residential business,” said Kraus. “The company excelled quickly as a significant contributor in the industry as a result of the expertise we developed in this category. Paper Box Lofts, Beaumont Place, and the Echelon Apartments at Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa were just the beginning of our growth in multi-family residential development.”
2014 was the first year Greenfire made the Milwaukee Business Journal’s list of largest Milwaukee-area construction firms, coming in at #20. The company has remained on that list ever since. In 2015, we also made the Business Journal’s list (#6) of the largest Milwaukee-area based minority-owned businesses.
“In 2015 and 2016 we saw tremendous growth in both the size of our team and the size of the projects we secured,” said Kraus. “We started work on Belay Apartments, the Wgetthta Building historic preservation, River House Apartments, Forge & Flare at Drexel Town Center and Stitchweld Apartments. These projects, many of which became award-winning, were significant in many ways. Our growth and success during this time allowed us to establish a strong reputation as a company delivering innovative construction solutions that maximize value.”
By the end of 2016, Greenfire had climbed to #16 on the Milwaukee Business Journal’s list of largest Milwaukee-area construction firms, and Greenfire took the #3 spot for Fastest Growing Firms and #3 for largest Milwaukee-area based minority-owned businesses.
“These were incredibly important years for our company, and we remain grateful for the opportunities everyone in the industry gave us at that time,” said Kraus. “The trust and support of our customers, partners, and owners propelled us on a track of success and we are committed to continuing on that path.”
With 345 percent growth over three years, Greenfire was named the #1 Fastest Growing Company in 2017 by the Milwaukee Business Journal. “That was a very exciting achievement for us, and it really set the tone for our company moving forward,” said Jeb Meier, Greenfire’s Chief Operating Officer. “Achieving that goal was a feather in our cap and affirmation that we were competing in the industry as a major player.”
In 2017, Greenfire’s work in multi-family developments was expansive. “We managed the development of nine multi-family projects in Milwaukee delivering 626 units to the market,” said Meier. “Several of those projects became award-winning buildings.” Greenfire was also named the Minority-Owned Business of the Year by Daily Reporter and was ranked #40 on the Best of the Best list by Midwest Real Estate News Magazine.
The following year, growth continued and Greenfire exceeded revenue goals. “In 2018 we landed new projects, obtained repeat business, our team grew by more than 30 percent, and we expanded our Wisconsin footprint by opening our Northern Operation in Wausau,” said Meier. “This was another big year for us as Greenfire’s reach had spread across the state. We were building in the northern most parts of Wisconsin all the way through the Racine corridor,” said Meier. “As our capabilities grew, our team grew too. We hired to staff the Northern Operations office, our leadership team expanded, and we developed new relationships with outstanding design teams and trade contractors across the state,” said Meier.
2019 was another exceptional year as the construction industry continued benefitting from a boom market. By the end of the year, Greenfire managed 31 projects totaling more than $369 million and more than two million square feet. We celebrated ground breakings from Rhinelander to Racine and won a dozen industry awards including the Marketplace Governor’s Award for Minority Business Enterprise – Outstanding Large Business. At the close of 2019, the Greenfire team had secured enough work for 2020 to make it the company’s best year yet.
Greenfire hit several growth milestones during our first decade, but one of the most significant was establishing a northern operation in Wausau in 2018. The expansion allowed us to gain a foothold beyond the southeastern region of the state and to more readily support developments by the Forest County Potawatomi (FCP) in Crandon. Mike Murphy, Greenfire’s Director of Northern Operations, leads a team of 11 that is currently managing $79 million of developments.
“Establishing a presence in northern Wisconsin completed one of the company’s key expansion goals and we are aggressively, and successfully, addressing a need for quality construction solutions in this region of the state,” said Murphy. “We have a strong team in place with a deep bench of experience. We are thrilled with the progress we are making, the developments we’ve secured, and the growing interest in Greenfire from the industry.”
During its first year, the northern operations team secured and completed work on the Demmer Memorial Library in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. They also completed the renovation of three elementary schools for the Rhinelander School District and recently finished new construction of a Head Start Facility for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Murphy and his team are currently managing two major projects for the FCP. This month, they are wrapping up construction of the tribe’s Convenience Store located on the Potawatomi Carter Casino Hotel campus. In May of 2019, the team broke ground on the tribes 110,000 SF Community Center in Crandon. The project includes a gymnasium, a fieldhouse with synthetic turf, an indoor pool, educational and support areas along with a childcare suite. A two-story common space connects all areas and creates a social touchstone for the community. The Community Center is slated for completion in Spring of 2021.
When Greenfire was founded in 2010, the company quickly established itself as an industry expert in multi-family developments, hospitality and historic renovations. Today, we are a team with a deep bench of experience in numerous categories, allowing us to grow into new verticals and new markets while always delivering on our promise of providing innovative construction services backed by a commitment to total quality management.
“With some of our very first projects, Greenfire came out of the gates strong, proving to be a capable and trusted partner,” said Greenfire’s president, Kip Ritchie. “Our early work on the Potawatomi Hotel Casino, and on award-winning projects like PaperBox Lofts, Beaumont Place, and River House Apartments allowed us to build a strong reputation and a strong team with potential for growth. It’s been amazing to be part of a team that refined its expertise in core areas, while at the same time, delivered on a corporate goal of expanding to new sectors in a smart and targeted approach.”
As Greenfire proved itself in the industry, the company attracted experts with impressive resumes and relationships. As our team expanded, so too did our ability to seek and win work in new areas. The addition of the company’s Northern Operations in 2018 expanded our capabilities and our geographical footprint.
Our team remains unmatched in multi-family and historic renovation expertise. But we now draw from team members with decades of experience in health care, senior living, education, municipal building, adaptive reuse, and a variety of large commercial developments.
Today Greenfire is renovating and building new schools for communities and Indian nations in northern Wisconsin. We are developing Waukesha’s new City Hall, recently completed the adaptive reuse of a historic church into a high-end events center and are hard at work on a $60 million community center for the Forest County Potawatomi. We are managing the construction of a senior living facility in the heart of Milwaukee and will soon begin work on two healthcare facilities in the city. And of course, we continue to expand our portfolio of work in the multi-family sector with outstanding projects in Oshkosh, Oak Creek, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and Racine.
In our year-long series celebrating Greenfire’s first decade, we are excited to share the story of Greenfire’s work on the Wgema Campus. Our efforts here started ten years ago, but the full story really began in 1986, when the Forest County Potawatomi acquired the former Concordia College campus, a 12-acre property on Milwaukee’s near west side.
“There is so much history to this property, and we are thrilled to be playing a role in not only rescuing the buildings that were here, but in bringing new life to the area for future generations to enjoy,” said Kip Ritchie, Greenfire’s president.
The land was taken into trust in 1990 and leased to the Indian Community School for 20 years. In 2007, the FCP established a mission and vision for the campus as they committed to saving the historic buildings for a purpose benefiting the entire community. More than $70 million of construction and improvements have been made to the property to date and Greenfire managed all of the work with exception of the initial $5.1 million completed before the company was founded.
Some of Greenfire’s earliest projects were located on the Wgema Campus. “We razed buildings, restored historic buildings, and developed new ones,” said Ritchie. “The work we did here was significant in many ways as it allowed Greenfire to establish roots and grow into one of the leading construction management firms in the regions.”
“Our first work on the campus was in 2011 with building demolitions and completing the Bgemagen building renovation,” said Mike Timmers, Greenfire’s former Director of Operations, who oversaw much of the work conducted on the campus. “That building would eventually become home to Greenfire as we completed additional phases of work here.”
In total, Greenfire has fully renovated six historic buildings and 11 other buildings on campus, four of which are LEED® Certified or higher. We razed five buildings and completed more than a dozen tenant buildouts. We have also constructed two new parking lots including a two-level parking ramp. “The work we’ve done on the campus allowed Greenfire to build a deep bench of experience in several areas, but most importantly, it helped us hone our skills in historic renovation,” said Timmers. “Today we truly excel in that category and our expertise can be attributed to what’s been done here over the years.”
Today, the Wgema Campus is not only home to Greenfire, but it also houses a charter elementary school, a catering company, offices for the Milwaukee Police Department, and Forest County Law Offices and Tribal Court. Several other tribal services and programs are conducted here as well.
And although our work to date has been significant, we are not yet finished! The final project on campus will be a full renovation of the historic recreational building which will complete the 12-year redevelopment.
We are grateful for the investment the FCP has made in this campus as it is rich in history and value to the City of Milwaukee and to the historic Concordia Neighborhood. We are proud to play a role in bringing this campus back to life for the betterment of the entire community.
In the past, we shared our story about the work Greenfire has done to renovate the Wgema Campus on Milwaukee’s Near West Side – but that’s just one location where our work has positively impacted a community. As an established leader in constructing multifamily residences, Greenfire has been fortunate to work on a variety of community-impact projects in and around Milwaukee. Some of those developments include historic renovation, some are affordable housing, and some are a combination of both.
Community is a core value at Greenfire, and that commitment is on display throughout our work in the Greater Milwaukee area and down through the Racine Corridor. Our work helps revitalize surrounding neighborhoods by bringing new properties to the market that provide quality housing, museums, commercial, retail, and community gathering spaces. “Our historic renovations breathe new life into buildings that have fallen into disrepair, restoring the area’s prominent heritage,” said Tom Heinrich, Greenfire’s director of preconstruction. “Our projects also support the community by employing local trade contractors to carry out the mission of the project making it a success for all parties involved.”
We possess a deep and commendable portfolio of work showcasing relevant multi-family, historic renovation, and adaptive reuse projects. Our relevant experience contains 25 total housing projects consisting of new construction and historic renovations along with an additional 10 historic renovations adapted for commercial use. We are motivated by these types of projects as the scope aligns with our values to repurpose historic buildings, restore prominence in vibrant communities, and provide a space for residents and tenants that fosters positive economic growth and interpersonal connection.
As the community invests in a project, the project must also invest back into its community. To do so, we employ Greenfire-developed practices that maximize participation from local trade contractors. As a minority-owned business enterprise, we recognize that the best way to carry out the mission of the project is to hire trade contractors with ties to the community who are just as invested in the project’s success. Our team seeks to establish and maintain relationships with other local, small, Tribal, and minority-owned businesses to support their efforts. We set participation goals in all our projects, with expectations to exceed. Due to the efforts of our preconstruction team, we are fortunate to possess strong relationships with a large network of quality trade contractors.
Community is not only a core value at Greenfire, but also a guiding principle for how we carry ourselves every day. As a subsidiary of the Forest County Potawatomi Community (FCPC) we reverberate the FCP Foundation mission to promote economic opportunity, strengthen communities, and demonstrate responsible citizenship by assisting and supporting charitable organizations.
We are fortunate to possess lasting partnerships with a variety of admirable and respected organizations who share this ideation. However, sharing a common belief is only half the equation to fostering a positive and lasting community impact. We also take action to invest in our communities through a variation of support, assistance, and mentorship.
“Greenfire’s continued belief in giving back to our community is a big part of the company culture our team has created,” said Rebecca Sadler, Greenfire’s director of administration. “One of our guiding principles is finding the positive in every situation and maintaining an attitude of gratitude. Teaming up with local community-based organizations not only supports their missions, but helps us build, maintain, and grow the best team.”
Support of our charitable organizations takes many forms as we host and coordinate drives, sponsor community-based events, and collect in-kind and monetary donations. Our assistance for charitable organizations includes promotion of the organization through partnerships, sponsorships, and volunteerism. Our mentorship includes youth development and promoting career development. Below are some of the organizations we partner with.
Next Door Foundation: Our partnership spans three years and consists of hosting an annual book drive to support childhood literacy and development.
First Nations Studies (FNS) Program: Our partnership spans four years and consists of hosting an annual school supply drive to donate in-kind to support FNS students and the after-school program. We kick-off each month-long drive by hosting a burger meal cook-out on the Wgema Campus. At the conclusion of the drive, all proceeds go to purchase the school supplies.
Milwaukee Christian Center: Our partnership spans three years and consists of hosting an annual food drive to collect in-kind and monetary donations to stock the organization’s pantry. As part of the drive, we volunteer at least 40 hours each year to help with meal prep, serving, and clean-up. Our support also includes mentorship for their Youth Build Program by hosting tours at our jobsites in addition to hosting mock interviews that focus on youth development as they prepare for their next chapter in life.
American Heart Association: Since 2016, Greenfire participates in the annual Heart Walk, which aims to eliminate heart disease and stroke. Throughout the years, Greenfire registered 140 walkers and donated over $2,250.
Near West Side Partners (NWSP): Greenfire continues our partnership with the Near West Side Partners by sponsoring NWSP events, coordinating and facilitating Wgema Campus tours, and collaborating and promoting community-focused events.
Forest County Potawatomi Leadership Development Program: Our partnership consists of hosting tours on jobsites focused on the basics of project management, logistics, safety, and responsibility in addition to construction trade opportunities.
Our support also continues with professional and career development as we have hosted numerous job fairs for upcoming projects. Our job fairs include opportunities to work with Greenfire or become involved with the trades on site. Most recently, we have hosted job fairs for the Forest County Potawatomi and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa communities as well as the Community Within the Corridor project.
In all, the culmination of our efforts seeks to leave a lasting positive impact. We believe investment back into your surroundings can not only help strengthen vitality and prosperity of the community but also the individuals who reside within.
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