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Originally published June 30, 2011 at 11:14 AM | Page modified July 1, 2011 at 6:27 AM

Space Needle builder Howard S. Wright sold to UK giant

Howard S. Wright, the venerable Seattle construction firm that built the Space Needle, has been sold to a Texas unit of a London-based international infrastructure company.

Seattle Times business reporters

Balfour Beatty

History: Balfour Beatty was founded in 1909 in Portsmouth, London by George Balfour, a Scots mechanical engineer, and Andrew Beatty, an English chartered accountant. Notable projects include construction of the Wadi Tharthar project in Iraq, development of London's Underground system and marine projects in the Great Lakes.

Market: Infrastructure markets include transportation, social, utilities and commercial. Balfour Beatty Construction of Dallas operates regional U.S. offices in Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas and Washington, D.C. Wright will operate as its fifth.

Clients: The company works with customers in the U.K., continental Europe, the U.S., SoutheastAsia, Australia and the Middle East.


Howard S. Wright

History: Howard S. Wright was founded in 1885 in Port Townsend and moved to Seattle in 1929. Its projects include 1201 Third Ave., formerly known as the Washington Mutual Tower, and the first three buildings on Microsoft's Redmond Campus.

Markets: Eighteen markets including health care, technology, education and retail. It operates out of its offices in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Clients: Nike, Intel and Microsoft.


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Howard S. Wright, the venerable Seattle construction company, has long been making history in Seattle. It built the Space Needle for the 1962 World's Fair, constructed the 76-story Columbia Center and is currently refashioning the Jackson Federal Office Building in downtown.

Now, after recently celebrating its 125th anniversary, the employee-owned company has been sold.

The buyer: Balfour Beatty Construction of Dallas, which bills itself as the nation's fifth-largest contractor and is a unit of London-based Balfour Beatty, which employs 50,000 worldwide.

The price: $70 million immediately, and an additional amount estimated at $23 million over the next 4 ½ years based on financial performance, the U.K. parent company said in a statement.

Balfour spokeswoman Connie Oliver said this is the company's fourth acquisition since 2009. She added that Wright's company culture and strong presence in the Pacific Northwest, where Balfour has been looking to expand operations, made for an attractive investment.

She said Wright has a reputation for "doing the job right the first time, in a way that has earned them repeat business instead of just earning money."

Wright, founded in 1885 in Port Townsend, worked on construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, 1201 Third Ave. (formerly know as the Washington Mutual Tower), and the first three buildings on Microsoft's Redmond campus, according to Wright's website.

Wright has had several ownership changes over the years but was repurchased by employees in 1996.

With offices in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Phoenix, it has more than 300 employees, including 90 in Seattle.

"The business that we do will stay in place. We'll have the same people, philosophy and business principles," said Frank Pierson, senior vice president of Wright. "We're matching with a company that will broaden our scope of resources and opportunity."

According to the company, Wright has averaged annual revenues in excess of $730 million over the last four years, and it is currently forecasting $610 million in revenue in 2011.

Dale Pellow, president of Wright, said the company is focused on expanding its market share in fields like health care, higher education and multifamily housing.

Projects in the works include a hospital for Peace Health in Friday Harbor, Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia and apartments near Seattle University.

Wright said it will retain its autonomy, its name, and its senior management.

"This is a way to continue the Wright legacy for the next 125 years," said John Tremper, a senior executive and former CFO of Wright who has been with the company for nearly four decades.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

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