» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 40 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 13, 2016

R.C. Mathews builds on 75 years of success

By Joe Morris

Print | Front Page | Email this story

The atrium of Belmont’s Wedgewood Academic Center, built by Mathews.

-- Michael Peck Photo, Courtesy Of R.C. Mathews Contractors

It’s a good time to be a builder in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, so there are plenty of newcomers angling for a piece of the action.

Taking a more measured approach is R.C. Mathews Contractor, marking its 75th anniversary the way it has marked its other milestones – by establishing solid relationships that result in a steady stream of high-profile projects.

A prime example would be Belmont University’s new Wedgwood Academic Center.

The Mathews team picked up awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., for the building, which is now the largest on campus.

The trade group gave Mathews the Greener Tomorrow award in recognition of the building’s environmentally friendly footprint, and the Eagle Award, which honors excellence in construction.

Mathews is one of only three commercial building contractors nationally to win the environmental award, and the only Eagle winner in Tennessee. Previous Eagle wins honored the firm’s work on the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Montgomery County Courthouse.

The Wedgewood center posed multiple challenges around design and execution, as well as a tight deadline. It’s the latest Belmont-Mathews collaboration in a partnership that stretches back more than a decade, is a “culminating project for the transformation of the Belmont campus,” says Walker Mathews, president.

“It’s a large project in every way,” Mathews says. “It’s around a $70 million building and is about 180,000 square feet of academic space. There’s a four-story atrium which the designer wanted to have as a connecting space for students, as well as many specialized requirements around the chemistry labs and other work areas. It’s got a chapel, food service and serves as a gathering and learning space.

“We also had to deal with a construction site that is directly adjacent to an existing building, and also fold in a lot of equally unique features that allow the building to be certified as LEED platinum.

“Now add in a five-story underground parking garage on a site with not a lot of room to move around in, and you can see the challenge.”

Belmont officials knew what the roadblocks could be going in, and that’s why they wanted to work with a firm that could handle the complexities, plus had familiarity with the campus, explains Dr. Bob Fisher, the university’s president.

Belmont’s Wedgewood Academic Center, the largest building on campus at 180,000 square feet.

-- Michael Peck Photo, Courtesy Of R.C. Mathews Contractors

“They work as though they are the university, not a contractor, which is very important to me,” Fisher says. “I trust them to understand what we’re trying to do, and build in the quality that they know we expect – and watch the budget as though they are their dollars.

“It really does make for a great partnership, having that kind of trust and open communication.”

Because Belmont has limited options for outward expansion, it’s had to go downward for parking and other uses.

Those 3,800 spaces would almost cover the entire campus if they were at surface level, Fisher adds, which can throw a wrench into any building project.

“Going down can take months, and so sometimes we have a bottoming out as well as a topping out on new projects,” he points out. “Not every builder can take that on. Mathews is our builder; that’s just where we are.”

Up, down and sideways, from complex to only mildly challenging, this sort of thing is a steady diet for the firm, which was founded in 1941 by Mathews’ grandfather, R.C. Mathews Sr.

The firm’s logo calls out its history of “building landmarks” for more than 70 years, but Mathews says that establishing relationships in a town that can be very tight knit in terms of work and referrals also has been key to the company’s success.

“We’re excited to be at this unique point in Nashville’s history, but we’re as busy as we are because we have done great work over the years,” he says. “And the work that we have done has an impact on many other great projects that are now happening in town.”

There has never been a level of activity comparable to what’s happening in Nashville now, but Mathews says his firm is not chasing a lot of new business, but literally building out from its base of clients.

“We work with Belmont, Vanderbilt University, Regions Bank and a lot of nonprofits, just to name a few, and that keeps us busy,” he says.

“We’ve told a lot of out-of-town developers, and this was difficult to do, that we really want to work with people that we can build long-term relationships with.

“Nashville is experiencing a period of unparalleled growth, and I think that’s going to continue for the next several years.

“One market sector, like multifamily buildings, may slow down, but then you’ve got about a dozen hotels about to break ground. One of those, the 21c Museum hotel [at 222 Third Avenue North], is our project.”

That building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will involve significant rehab and reuse of the existing structure. That’s in contrast to a new, 120,000-square-foot office building that Mathews will soon erect for Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon a few blocks further south on Third Avenue. And that’s what Mathews says the firm is always after.

“We get just as excited about each project, regardless of size,” he says. “We’re working on the expansion and renovation of the Belcourt Theatre, which is a huge honor for us.

“The strength of our company has always been really great buildings and strong relationships, so that we can work with our partners over and over. We love working with people to help them maximize their brick-and-mortar investment, and helping them grow.

“As a native Nashvillian, I’m amazed at where we are going, and I think that we’re going to stay ahead.”

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon