816 Business

KC company has paved the way for 100 years

Odds are you’ve walked on Doug Hall’s work. His company, Musselman & Hall, the paving contractor that is winding up its centennial year, has laid concrete at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, at Bartle Hall and even created the “yellow brick road” at the Legends shopping center.

Founder George K. Musselman got his start in Kansas City in the late 19th century with contracts to lay rail lines, including several electric-powered interurban lines, and the company still does rail work. One of its big projects this year was to replace 7,500 ties and refurbish the rail bed for St. Louis’ Metrolink light-rail system.

In 1914, George Musselman made one of his top assistants, John N. Hall Jr., a partner and changed the firm’s name to Musselman & Hall Contractors. The company’s CEO today, Doug Hall, is John Hall’s great-nephew.

Musselman & Hall did 350 jobs in 15 states in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. It employs more than 230 people.

“It was our best year ever, volume-wise,” Doug Hall said. “It was not our most profitable year, probably in the top five.”

In addition to rail beds, parking lots, walkways, streets and curbs, Musselman & Hall does other things, too.

“We do more structural work than even five years ago,” Doug Hall said. “It used to be all flat. Now, we do more multi-story (jobs).”

They’re not all big, high-profile jobs.

“If you take the little jobs, you’ll end up getting the big ones,” Hall said. “We don’t do residential. Industrial is our sweet spot. We do commercial jobs like shopping centers and office buildings. And we do about 10 to 15 percent government work.”

Streets and curbings used to account for a larger percentage of the company’s business.

“Ten years ago it was half of our business, but we got away from it,” he said. “There’s no money in it. It’s very competitive, and they don’t want to pay for quality.”

Photographs of historic jobs done around the Kansas City area and across the country line the walls of Musselman & Hall’s headquarters in the Blue River basin. One photo shows workers paving a viaduct near Kemper Arena. Another shows them paving a street in Waldo. Another shows them making repairs after the West Bottoms flood of 1951.

Musselman & Hall employs union workers and is a member of both the Heavy Constructors Association and the Builders Association. It doesn’t make the concrete it uses in jobs, but, rather, buys material from firms like Sturgis and hires ready-mix trucks from such local firms as Penney’s and Fordyce.

A design showroom at 2518 Holmes St. shows potential clients what it can do with fancy paving. The “yellow brick road” is but one example.

The showroom contains examples of polished and stained concrete. The rainbow squares along one wall look like a giant child’s watercolor paint box.

“Polish brings in light,” Doug Hall said. “It makes rooms brighter. And there is zero maintenance.”

Then there is stamped concrete, made to look like boards or bricks or in geometric patterns. It, too, can be colored.

Finally, there is concrete with small rock known as aggregate embedded into the surface for better footing or a more interesting look.

The showroom also contains an example of pervious concrete, which has small channels throughout to allow water to seep through.

“It’s made kind of like a Rice Krispies treat,” Doug Hall said. “It’s a stormwater-runoff solution. We built a parking lot for the ATA at 31st and Troost with it. It’s good on trails. It’s really expensive, but the greenies love it.”

Despite its popularity among environmentalists, Doug Hall has his doubts about the long-term quality of pervious concrete.

“In Kansas City, we have freeze and thaw cycles and dirt that clogs up the pores,” he said. “It has limited use.”

Kerry Kanatzar, who heads the engineering section of the Kansas City Public Works Department, shares Hall’s doubts about pervious concrete and its cousin, porous asphalt. Using federal stimulus funds, Kanatzar hired Musselman & Hall a couple of years ago to repave two city blocks that were prone to flooding using the two methods — one on each block. It was an experiment.

“It has accomplished our objective to some degree,” Kanatzar said. “It takes more maintenance, like street sweeping, because the pores tend to clog.”

What’s more, he said, it tends to break down more readily than standard pavement.

However, Kanatzar is happy with the work Musselman & Hall did. They were one of only a few contractors who bid on both types of porous paving jobs, he said.

“They’re flexible, and you know you’re going to get a good project,” Kanatzar said.

At age 71, Doug Hall has dialed back his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company ever so slightly. He takes Fridays off and gets away to Arizona in the winter.

Starting in the mid-1990s, he sold a piece of the company to President Mike Morris. Now, he’s in the process of selling his ownership interest to his son-in-law, Executive Vice President Dexter Phillips. That will take a while, though.

“I’m not ready to stop,” Doug Hall says.

And neither is his century-old firm.