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Bernardon partners with national design firm

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WILMINGTON – Nearly 50 years after being founded as a small architectural and interior design firm and growing into one of the largest in Delaware, Bernardon has entered a partnership with Core States Group, a national firm headquartered in Georgia but with a large Philadelphia presence, the firm announced Friday.

The deal, which took effect Monday, is the culmination of a two-year search for a merger partner that could take Bernardon’s work to the national scale, said Bill Holloway, the firm’s principal-in-charge for the Delaware market. The firm has been growing quickly in recent years, but needs to expand geographically to continue that trend, he added.

Core States acquired a majority stake in Bernardon, but firm leaders will retain an interest as well. The 48-year-old firm founded by Arthur Bernardon will keep its name, six current principals and operate independently while Core States’ members join Bernardon’s board of directors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“When we found Core States, they checked all the boxes,” Holloway told Delaware Business Times. “We’re really excited because they have 17 offices across the country and their core business is a different kind of building than we normally do.”

David Dugan, president of Core States Group, concurred with that assessment in a statement, adding, “Our integrated model and ability to serve clients nationwide are major differentiators, and our partnership with Bernardon will strengthen that.”

The six-story Tower at STAR on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus is one of Bernardon’s best-known projects. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS.

Best known in Delaware for high-profile projects like the University of Delaware’s Tower at STAR, Delle Donne & Associates’ Avenue North, the Joseph Biden Jr. Railroad Station in Wilmington and the Copeland Maritime Center at the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard, among others, Bernardon’s portfolio is diverse, ranging from single-family homes to large institutional, but trends heavily toward multifamily complexes and corporate offices.

On the other hand, Core States is largely known for its corporate chain work, designing gas stations, retail stores and restaurants.

“I think our plan is that we’re setting up as a platform for other kinds of architecture to bring that kind of innovation and vertical integration to other clients and building types. And we’ve just scratched the surface of the possibilities,” Holloway said.

Bernardon has grown organically over the years, impressing clients with their work and earning return business – sometimes even far flung from its greater Philadelphia area radius. Holloway led the renovation project at the Biden train station, which led Amtrak to turn to Bernardon again for a project in Alabama, he noted.

With Core States’ sprawling presence across the country, Bernardon would be better established to book projects of that sort moving forward. Architects require local licensing in the states where they are working, and much like national law firms, Bernardon can now call upon local Core States’ architects to assist and sign off on work where the firm may not typically work.

Bernardon works closely with Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based utility Aqua Water, which has recently ventured into natural gas utilities, which has opened new opportunities in Texas and Ohio, Holloway added.

The firm currently has 87 employees, with offices in Wilmington, Philadelphia and West Chester, Pa., and Holloway said that they did intend to continue growing, although they sought to do that organically as clients and projects are landed.

“Now we have capital, we have assurance of the continuity of the firm for decades into the future and it gives stability to our client base and our employees,” he said. “We’re thankful for those opportunities, and having this opportunity to really start to grow.”

Editor’s note: This story originally reported that Bernardon had been acquired by Core States Group, because the national firm has acquired a majority share. The deal is structured as a general partnership with shared interest, however, so the story has been updated to reflect that fact.

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