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Q&A with Ed Kittrell, founding partner of KGA Architecture

KGA Architecture’s large-scale projects have helped shape the Southern Nevada landscape – from hotel-casinos to hospitals, and high schools to police stations.

Ed Kittrell founded the firm 39 years ago with George Garlock. Now managed by Kittrell and three other partners (Dave Brom, Jim Lord and Rick Romito), KGA is licensed in more than 20 states, and has 50 employees between its Las Vegas and Austin, Texas, offices.

Signature projects in Las Vegas include Bishop Gorman High School, the Palms resort, Southern Hills Hospital, Henderson Executive Airport and Aliante Station.

“I always wanted to be either an architect or an engineer,” Kittrell said. “My father and grandfather owned a construction company in Albuquerque. I remember as a kid going into my dad’s office and looking at the drawings for buildings he was working on, trying to figure out how they were put together and how I could make them better.”

What’s your role at KGA?

When George Garlock and I founded the firm in 1975, we were like the left hand and the right hand. He was the designer and I took care of the nuts and bolts — structure, building codes, construction administration — anything to do with the technical end. We could each do what the other did, but it just worked out better that way. Now, in my role as founding partner, I do a little of everything, including reviewing most of the proposals and contracts.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Right now, it’s the economy — keeping things going and keeping the office afloat. The federal government is making it hard for businesses to recover, and now there’s the threat of the margins tax in Nevada. We make about 5 percent profit on our gross revenue and the margins tax would take 2 percent, so it’s really about a 40 percent tax on our profits.

What are you involved in outside work?

For many years, I’ve served on the Clark County Combined Board of Building Appeals, which hears appeals on decisions made by the County Building Department. After the MGM fire in 1980, the county set up a Retrofit Board to review all the codes to protect buildings. I was appointed by the governor to serve on that board, which I did for several years, and then the County Commission asked me to join the appeals board. It keeps me up on building codes — not only on how they’re written, but also in how they’re interpreted by the various local governments.

What’s the greatest crisis you’ve faced?

Seven or eight years ago Las Vegas was booming. We had about 100 employees and were always looking for more. When the recession hit, our fees dropped 90 percent in less than six months, but our expenses stayed the same. Until 2009, we had never laid anyone off due to lack of work, but then we had to let more than 60 people go. We survived by downsizing, asking employees to take pay cuts and really tightening our belts, but it took us years to recover. Our work used to be about 25 percent public and 75 percent private, but now the percentages have been reversed.

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