Building Through the Lens of the Project Owner
Relationships are at the core of PDG Construction Services, Inc.
PDG Construction Services, Inc.’s approach to clients and projects reflects its unique origin. It began as an in-house construction management company for Persimmon Development Group in 1995. At the time, the Wilsonville, Oregon-based team managed the entire architectural and engineering design process for projects requiring considerable infrastructure design and civil engineering work. In 2012, the construction arm became PDG Construction Services, Inc. (PDG), a design-build and construction management services company for large-scale projects throughout Oregon and Washington.
“We transitioned from development of the Persimmon Country Club and its golf course, and the construction of custom homes, to designing and building developments, communities and multifamily housing for multiple developers,” says Brian Lessler, President and CEO, and one of the original founders of the company. Today PDG provides traditional general contracting (GC) and construction management services, in addition to turnkey development services, from pre-construction to final delivery across multiple market segments.
“We view projects through the lens of what the project owner is trying to accomplish and with a focus on relationships with the project team,” says Ben Stewart, Vice President of Construction Operations. “Many of our clients aren’t typically in the business of doing development work or building expansions or remodeling properties. We perform the work and ensure things go right so they can focus on their core business.”
A Broad Foundation
Accurate information is critical to developing a budget and operating pro forma and to the long-term success of projects. “We have well-developed systems for pre-construction services and expertise in project estimating,” says Brian. “It’s a benefit to project owners during the critical development and conceptual design stage.”
Brian was born to build, starting with forts and tree houses when he was a boy. He grew up with a real estate broker mom and a civil and structural engineer dad. After earning a business degree from the University of Oregon, he joined his mother in the commercial real estate field. He went on to building single-family homes and developing subdivisions, and later joined a multistate construction, development and asset management firm before founding PDG.
Ben’s strong work ethic was instilled while growing up: he and his three siblings were ranch hands on the family’s small beef ranch. He went on to earn a forest engineering degree from Oregon State with an emphasis in civil engineering. Ben started his career working for construction engineering firms before joining the Port of Portland where he managed design and construction processes for the $120 million five-year expansion of Portland International Airport (PDX). “I enjoyed the entire construction process, from working with contractors to executing plans for that beautiful project and interacting with the public,” says Ben. He joined PDG 15 years ago to work in development construction.
Historic Structures, Reimagined
PDG is particularly proud of its success in repurposing old structures into notable hotel and hospitality developments and even schools, such as the Multnomah Learning Academy in Troutdale, Oregon. The company turned 26,000 square feet of a former grocery store shell in an abandoned 120,000-square-foot shopping center into a new public charter school. The team was involved from the pre-construction stage through project management and construction. They gave the entire mall a facelift; the remainder is now retail space.
They’ve managed large-scale projects for McMenamins Historic Hotels, a family-owned chain known for converting historic buildings into destination properties in Washington and Oregon.
McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon, was built in 1929-30 as the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon’s home for widows and widowers. Expansion of the historic brick-veneered building presented many logistical challenges.
The project involved an addition of a wood-framed attic atop the four-story, concrete-reinforced structure. Interior access was limited to the stairs or an antique elevator. “We removed a gable from the sloped, 8:12 pitched roof and through that hole, loaded materials for 22 additional guest rooms and built them above the roof,” recalls Ben. They also remodeled existing guest rooms, added 18 private bathrooms and installed air conditioning units on the lower floors. All work was performed during hotel and restaurant operating hours.
“It was one of our most fun projects,” recalls Brian. “The detailing and artwork extend to surfaces including exposed pipes. Each guest room has a name and a theme.”
Turnkey Multifamily Properties
Building the 26-unit Medina Apartments in downtown Portland was a challenging infill project. The property, built on a reinforced concrete pedestal, is adjacent to a state highway on one side and a small local street on the other, with a 25-foot grade differential from corner to corner. “We hired the entire architectural engineering team, drove design to meet cost parameters and built it very successfully,” says Brian.
Another PDG infill project is The Morgan located in the historic Sellwood district of Portland. It was a property-line-to-property-line development with 46 units above a parking garage. “The building filled the entire site,” says Ben. “Adding space for on-site rainwater treatment would have meant reducing the building size. Instead, we recommended adding a green roof to the design and also installed it. It’s an inviting environment that incorporates a system for stormwater treatment with a rooftop courtyard for the community.”
The Tristan apartments project was an opportunity that PDG discovered and brought to its client. PDG managed the design, engineering processes and delivery to the owner. The 44-unit project was built on a site with compound slopes of 30 feet from corner to corner and a subsurface parking garage area.
Senior Housing Projects
“Renovating senior housing with vulnerable residents in memory care and assisted living, requires a special mindset. We’re always aware that we are working inside their homes,” says Brian. “Also, we don’t want to get in the way of the staff providing services and caring for residents.”
PDG typically has several senior housing projects underway. To date, the company has completed more than 60 renovations, conversions and remodels of skilled nursing, rehab centers, and assisted and independent living facilities, including Courtyard Fountains Senior Living in Gresham and a senior continuing care facility underway in Eugene, Oregon.
The company’s latest undertaking is a ground-up project for a 12-acre campus that includes an assisted living center and memory care building, a 26-unit independent living apartment building and a community center. “We collaborated with the owner and design professionals from the early concept and built all three buildings and the site infrastructure including utilities, paving, parking and grading with design-build responsibilities on several building systems,” says Ben.
Team Commitment, Values and Faith
“Construction is what we do, but it’s not who we are,” says Brian. “There’s a commitment from everyone on our team to be fair, honest and relentless in pursuit of successful relationships."
“There’s never a clear glidepath to completion,” he continues. “For most of the team, our faith in God gives us the strength to persevere when things get a bit tough, as they do from time to time. We find workable solutions and always do the right thing, even if it hurts, and sometimes it does!”
The PDG senior leadership team has been together for a long time, including Controller Pat Furgason, Senior Project Manager Nick Smith, Project Superintendent Andy Fisher and Senior Superintendent Ted West. All have decades of experience. “There’s a comfort level in the duration of our internal working relationships,” says Brian.
Contributing to Community
The company has a history of supporting local economic development and planning efforts and the important work of nonprofits that serve the communities where the team lives and works.
Brian has long been active in community and nonprofit leadership. He was a founding member and President of East Metro Economic Alliance, served as President and on the Executive Board of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, and participated in Meals on Wheels through Gresham Rotary. He also served on the board of Home Forward for nine years and is currently on its Real Estate and Development committee, on citizen advisory committees for the City of Gresham and on the advisory committee for the Salvation Army Gresham Corps. Brian and his wife have been involved with World Vision for 25 years.
The company donates to nonprofit organizations selected annually by the senior membership. Organizations include Vital Life Foundation, My Father’s House, and SnowCap Community Charities.
Relationships at the Core of Everything
Building lasting business relationships is the essence of PDG’s mission statement and at the core of everything the company does. “We have stellar people of stellar character,” says Brian. “There’s a sense of trust in everyone doing their best and working together. We share a common purpose: meeting clients’ goals and objectives for their development and construction projects.”
“The relationships we’ve developed and the team of people that we have makes it very enjoyable to do our jobs and complete projects,” says Ben. “Our reward is satisfying clients. We take pride in the work we’ve done that will last for years to come.”
“Investigation, research and learning go into each project,” says Brian. “It’s not a rote process. Continually challenging ourselves is fun.”
Brian is fond of this quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” “That’s the way we operate,” says Brian.