Owner of Codes-ABC shows exemplary talent as a building code compliance specialist
According to world-leading scholars and psychologists, true expertise is a multi- faceted phenomenon involving continuous learning, deliberate practice and practical intelligence. This is a fitting portrayal of Frederick “Art” Barthlow, a lifelong learner of all facets of construction and a highly respected building code compliance expert in North Florida.
Possessing diverse industry knowledge and experience spanning six decades, Barthlow’s hard-earned reputation stems from his work ethic and innate drive to improve himself professionally.
“Construction is what I know—it’s what I’ve always done,” says Barthlow, who today owns and operates Codes-ABC, Inc., a firm based in Orange Park, Florida, which provides building plan reviews, code consulting and permit expediting services to residential and commercial customers.
“Our purpose is to provide building code compliance review and permitting services that improve the health and welfare of citizens primarily in Florida,” he says, adding, “I’m also certified through the International Code Council (ICC) to perform plan reviews in any jurisdiction of the U.S. that has adopted ICC codes.”
As an ICC-designated Master Code Professional, which requires a minimum of 17 ICC certifications to qualify, Barthlow belongs to an elite class of just over 800 individuals who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to the profession, a diverse knowledge of codes, and a high level of self-initiative. He also holds multiple licensures through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (Florida DBPR), including building code administrator, family dwelling plans examiner, standard inspector and standard plans examiner. Additionally, he is a certified fire inspector in the state of Florida, which qualifies him to conduct fire inspection and plan reviews.
“I enjoy what I do; this is my passion. It is rewarding to help people get into their buildings safely—and as quickly as possible,” Barthlow says.
A Life’s Calling
Barthlow, who is 73, has been immersed in the world of construction from a young age. “I grew up in this industry,” he says. “My dad was a general superintendent for one of the region’s larger construction companies; at the age of 14, I started working on the job sites he ran.”
Barthlow held various construction roles during his early career days, including laborer, carpenter, journeyman carpenter, superintendent and general superintendent. Then, between 1981 and 1996, he worked as a self-employed certified building contractor for a large real estate agent based in Jacksonville. The money was good, but he put in long hours and worked out of town often, sacrificing time with his family in the process. The strain on his life began to take a toll.
“I was really struggling, and I was just burnt out doing what I was doing,” Barthlow recalls. Then, a colleague suggested he make a shift to a slightly less-demanding career as a building inspector. Barthlow, who was 50 at the time, wrestled with the idea.
“My colleague, Ben, said to me, ‘Why are you fighting this, Art?’ I said, ‘Hell, this is the only thing I know. I’ve got a wife and two kids. I’ve got to work to make a living. Nobody’s going to hire me—I’m too old,’ ” Barthlow says.
A Bold Career Move
But the more Barthlow thought about it, the more the idea appealed to him. So, he bought the latest Florida Building Code book and studied it every day, and attended weekly ICC classes in Fort Myers. Next, he passed the Florida DBPR building inspector and building plans examinations. Also during this time frame, he took a position working for the city of Jacksonville’s Building Inspection Division.
“I left a building contractor job that paid $80,000 a year—where I was working myself to death—for a city job as a building code plans examiner that paid only $24,750 a year,” Barthlow says. “My wife wanted to know how we were going to make it…I promised her we would make ends meet somehow.”
Working for the city, he quickly realized he was on his own in navigating the ins and outs of his new job. He had to figure things out quickly, or risk being terminated for poor performance. Undaunted, Barthlow self-educated himself on the local building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, contract specifications, inspection techniques, and recordkeeping and reporting duties required of his position.
“I read and studied all the time. I would read while riding the city bus to and from the office each day, during lunch breaks, and even on the weekends,” Barthlow says. He adds, “I’m the type of person who’s always looking down the road to find ways to improve myself.”
Through continuous learning and deliberate practice, over the years he gained the in-depth knowledge necessary to become an accomplished building code compliance expert. “I already understood the needs of contractors because of my previous experience, so I really focused on learning about what the designers needed,” Barthlow explains. “I learned a lot from the architects and engineers I worked with, and developed good rapport with them. I focused on getting permits out ASAP—and people grew to respect me for it. Permits put people to work.”
While working for the city, one of Barthlow’s most significant undertakings involved coordinating building permits for the St. Johns Town Center owned by Simon Property Group. Conveniently located in Jacksonville’s Southside neighborhood, this popular shopping and dining destination is home to more than 175 retail stores and a diverse palette of eateries. “All of these stores and restaurants had to open at one time. Different contractors from across the country were there to do these buildouts. In some places I had three contractors doing a single job. On a project of this size and complexity, my expertise in the general contracting field really helped me coordinate all the building permitting processes,” Barthlow says.
By the time he retired from the city of Jacksonville in 2016, Barthlow had amassed a wealth of knowledge and career-defining experiences—as well as advantageous industry connections, which would be beneficial during the next leg of his career.
“I worked for the city for 20 years, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to advance myself professionally. The experiences I gained are invaluable—and make me very successful in the business I’m in now. There is no class or curriculum that can impart the knowledge I built while working for that jurisdiction,” Barthlow says.
"Our purpose is to provide building code compliance review and permitting services that improve the health and welfare of citizens.” Art Barthlow, Owner, Codes-ABC, Inc.
Exemplary Industry Leadership
Building codes and standards are important to minimizing or preventing injuries, death and economic losses within the built environment. To safeguard the public’s health, safety and welfare, these provisions address everything from structural stability, fire protection and adequate means of egress to sanitation, ventilation and safe electrical wiring—and much more.
Barthlow has learned valuable lessons about these provisions not just on the job, but also as a 10-year, governor-appointed plans examiner representative on the Florida Building Code Administrators and Inspectors Board. The board serves an important role in the construction community by regulating the licensure of plan review and inspection personnel.
“The board’s main objective is to protect the public. Some professionals in our industry will try to apply building codes contrary to how they’re intended. But building codes are instituted for important safety reasons—and it’s our job to enforce them,” Barthlow says.
Building a First-Rate Team
Barthlow opened Codes-ABC, Inc. in February 2018. About six months later, he hired his first employee, Meghan Owens. He’d worked with her previously at another company, and admired her diligence and can-do attitude.
Meghan has been working as an Administrative Assistant at Codes-ABC, Inc. for about a year and a half now. “She’s really taken the ball and run with it. The clients love her, and she does everything she can to promote this company and help us build our reputation,” Barthlow says.
According to Barthlow, he operates the only consulting firm in North Florida that handles all plans reviews and expediting in-house. All staff members at Codes-ABC, Inc. have to be willing to learn, he adds. “I also require employees to get ICC permit technician certification, which gives them the working knowledge necessary to do this job,” he says, adding that if they decide to work at a jurisdiction later on, this certification will aid their proficiency.
Earlier this year, Barthlow added Michelle Cochrane to his staff, who helps Meghan with expediting. “One of our hardest jobs is getting the correct original signatures on our legal documents. Michelle is a great asset in helping us make sure clients execute these forms properly, among other responsibilities,” he says.
Other professional connections with extensive industry experience have helped Barthlow build his team even further. “I hired Curtis Herringdine as a plans examiner. He worked for the city of Jacksonville for 17 years, and has about 40 total years of construction industry experience—including 30 years in the field,” Barthlow says. There is also Bob Ratliff, who does consulting for Codes-ABC, Inc. on occasions when fire reviews are needed. “I previously worked with Bob for 10 years at the city of Jacksonville, where he was head of the Fire and Rescue Department’s Fire Prevention Division.”
A Portfolio of Outstanding Projects
The young company already has a nice collection of work in its portfolio, which includes retail stores, hotels, apartments, tenant buildouts and more. Some notable examples in Florida include: the PGA TOUR National Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach; the Olea at Nocatee, a 175-unit active adult retirement community opening next year in St. Johns County; and a new 286,000-square-foot, seven-story parking garage on West Forsyth Street in downtown Jacksonville.
His team’s performance has earned many accolades from clients, including Chirag Patel, President of CR3 Hospitality LLC. “Art and Meghan are an amazing asset to anyone looking to build in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas. Their expertise and contacts with the city departments help the whole process move along much faster,” Patel says. “Art has a wealth of knowledge and can help with everything from plan reviews to obtaining permits. Codes-ABC, Inc. will always be the company I use in my future developments.”
Mike Oliver, Vice President of Development at Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, shares similar praise. “Art and Meghan were instrumental in getting our multifamily development kicked off and under construction. As a team, they helped us navigate through the permitting approvals process in both St. Johns County and the city of Jacksonville. I would not start another project without them,” he says.
Looking to the Future
While Barthlow and his staff stay moderately busy throughout the year, they are always looking for new clients to serve. As a private consulting firm, Codes-ABC, Inc.’s agility in expediting plan reviews and inspections is advantageous because it allows for construction to begin faster. This, in turn, benefits developers by enabling them to open their facilities more quickly and begin earning a return on their investment sooner.
As he looks to the future of his business, Barthlow is gratified that his expertise will continue to help promote the safety and welfare of building occupants, which is his chief mission.
“Codes-ABC, Inc. is dedicated to providing services that serve to protect the community through safe construction practices,” he says. “Our team’s driving philosophy is to inspect each property as if it is our own, to help our clients swiftly attain what they need and desire in a building. We hope to broaden our impact by continuing to expand our staff and capabilities in the future.”