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25 Years of MGAC: Cost Management and Project Controls Capabilities

MGAC was founded in 1996 with three goals: to do the most interesting and challenging work, to have fun working together, and to build a successful business in the process. Twenty-five years later, we have met these goals and more. At this milestone moment, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of our most memorable projects—our favorite missions made real. Today, join us as we revisit the evolution of our Cost Management and Project Controls work.

A successful project boils down to three things: time, cost, and quality. Today, MGAC’s Cost Management and Project Controls arm plays a crucial role in ensuring these items are accomplished on all our projects. MGAC’s work in this space began in earnest in 2013. In a strategic move to bring these increasingly critical services under our roof, MGAC acquired a cost consultancy group in the Los Angeles area. The small firm was started by several individuals who struck out on their own after working together at the consultancy company Davis Langdon. The acquisition opened the doors to MGAC’s Los Angeles office, and the founding team hit the ground running.

What began as traditional cost consultancy work has since evolved to comprise not only cost estimating  but also scheduling, claims analysis, risk management, bid negotiation, contract procurement, change order management, reporting and more—all under the umbrella of Project Controls. This team works from feasibility and programming through detailed design, construction, and close-out, serving as unbiased consultants to allow informed independent decisions at every step. At any given time, the Cost Management and Project Controls group is working on three-quarters of the firm’s projects across a wide range of sectors. Embodying detailed diligence, they are the bedrock of so much of our firm’s work, and their ability to take on anything that comes their way makes it all happen.


Some of MGAC’s most complex and ambitious projects over the years have unfolded in the corporate and commercial space, and our Cost Management and Project Controls team has been instrumental in bringing those buildings across the finish line.

In 2014, MGAC was retained to deliver a new headquarters for American Greetings. The new Westlake, OH, build was sizable—to the tune of 660,000 SF. MGAC was asked to step in after the project’s first project manager had been terminated. The cost team went to work straight away, reevaluating and ultimately challenging prior assumptions relating to the contractor procurement. It paid off, and upon the advice of our team, contracting was awarded at $22M less than the original construction team’s proposal.

In 2016, another headquarters relocation, this time for the Urban Institute. The job entailed significant cost work. MGAC worked with the Institute to negotiate lease commencement terms for the new 140,000 SF office. The process was rigorous and involved massive opposition from the real estate brokers. But we stood our ground on behalf of the client—our dogged approach paid off. The strict definition of building completion that our team wrote and included in the final lease document saved them roughly $3M in rent costs.

One of the team’s first commercial mixed-use projects came early on with the redevelopment of the Century Plaza Hotel, a 17-story historic landmark in Los Angeles County’s Century City, together with two 45 story towers housing luxury condominiums, all totaling about 2 million GSF. The project was complex, with multiple funding sources at play, separate loans, five GMP packages, multiple bid packages, and a fast-track schedule for design and negotiation of trade contracts. MGAC’s multi-year involvement began with design stage cost estimating and negotiation of the GMP with the general contractor. Ongoing work has entailed independent cost reviews, evaluations, and recommendations on the settlement of numerous change orders across multiple trades on behalf of the client. Successfully navigating the nuances of this project helped build a reputation for MGAC’s unparalleled cost services in the mixed-use and commercial space, leading to new work in the San Francisco area—and ultimately prompting the founding of a new office for MGAC.

Fast forward to today, and our team is bringing major projects across the finish line for corporate and commercial brands such as Hilton, T-Mobile, NFL Media, Freddie Mac, and Sherwin-Williams, to name a few.


Some of the most visible projects embedded in communities—schools and civic spaces—often operate within strict budget constraints and under the public eye. Every dollar matters and must be accounted for, always. Over the years, our team has worked on countless projects in this realm, dictating scope from the bottom line, exploring the most cost-effective design alternatives, and providing all-important, up-to-date estimates along the way.

In the education sector, we have worked coast-to-coast in both K-12 schools and at the university level. In 2017, MGAC was awarded an IDIQ by the DC Department of General Services (DGS) to help DC Public Schools with their ongoing work to renovate over 100 educational facilities in the Washington, DC area. Over the past few years, MGAC has been involved with eight school modernization projects with a total CIP value of approximately $450M. Each campus comes with unique challenges, and the job has brought our team tasks that range from renovating a nationally recognized historic site to breaking ground on DC’s first net-zero energy school. No matter the ask, our cost team’s continued efforts have ensured lower construction costs per every square foot touched.

On the higher-education side, we have worked with high-profile colleges and universities on new builds and renovations. At the University of California, San Diego, we have completed a variety of cost estimating and value engineering projects on areas of the campus ranging from classrooms to cafés, auditoriums to laboratories, and everything in between. Within just one research space, we saved the university $15M by offering cost support throughout the design phase. At Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, MGAC was engaged to develop a cost model based on program documents and concept sketches. The College was looking to undergo a large renovation and expansion, and our cost model determined that the budget was $16M short of the client’s programmatic and qualitative expectations. An additional $10M was added to the budget, and our value-engineering efforts bridged the gap. Currently, the team is hard at work in Baltimore and Washington, DC, supporting Johns Hopkins University on more than a dozen projects with budget and schedule maintenance, cost tracking, scheduling, design management, risk assessment, and daily on-site construction oversight and reporting.

On the civics side of things, the team has partnered with the Judicial Council of California on new-build courthouses providing cost estimates, cost comparisons, feasibility studies, value engineering, and budget reconciliation and analysis, on approximately 10 new State Courthouses. MGAC helped open the Long Beach Civic Center, a new 22-acre mixed-use district, in 2019 by providing capital budgets development, capital cost and lifecycle cost analysis, and risk and contingency management.


As a company, MGAC has built a reputation for tackling exceptionally challenging and uniquely ambitious projects. Sometimes those challenges come from scale, from first-of-its-kind builds, or from high-stakes and highly customized features. Two sectors that often borrow on that last piece are cultural work and healthcare facilities. Both of these industries build with uncompromisable requirements and a need to evolve over time. Taking on these kinds of projects is fittingly—and quite literally—both an art and a science.

Just outside of Washington, DC in Potomac, MD, on a 230-acre property, sits Glenstone, a contemporary art museum boasting a collection of more than 1,300 works. MGAC was first introduced to Glenstone to conduct a cost study of the existing museum space, which was completed in 2006. That study, and the cost-savings we identified, paved the way for new projects—namely The Pavilions. The plan for The Pavilions was an ambitious one. The expansion would quadruple exhibit space and offer free, up-close access to world-class art, stunning structures, and sweeping landscapes. No detail on the architecture and building front was too small; each of the 26,000 concrete blocks was hand-poured, the windows were painstakingly studied and engineered, and the 18,000 SF water court at the center is fed by rainwater harvested from the museum’s rooftops. Ultimately, the entire space needed to honor and safely house each work of art. MGAC’s Cost Management team was engaged throughout the entire process to bring to life the striking and stirring exhibition space that welcomes nearly 100,000 visitors each year.

The healthcare sector likewise brings work as challenging as it is rewarding. As with cultural spaces, healthcare buildings need to combine form with function and stand the test of time. Aligning cost, scope, and quality is non-negotiable. Over the years, MGAC’s cost team has successfully navigated many complex healthcare builds—projects with large capital investments, diverse stakeholder interests, serious technology demands, and a multitude of risks to be assessed. Members of our team have been providing Cost Management services to Cedars-Sinai for the last 20 years for multiple inpatient and outpatient facilities. We have worked with Scripps Health on multiple projects to provide benchmarking, program cost modeling, concept and full design cost estimating, and total cost management services on new builds. Currently, we are providing cost planning for Antelope Valley Hospital’s new, 230-bed, 356,000 SF hospital in Lancaster, California, and we are just starting up on a new $900M inpatient tower for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Healthcare projects like these keep our team on their toes. Every project in this space is unique, and our database of national healthcare costs provides extensive benchmark data that can be adjusted for time and location to specific project criteria. This allows us to meet the needs of every one of our clients for projects of all scales, from new-build patient towers to program-specific interior renovations. As patient care evolves and as technology advances, so too does our approach to the work.


Our cost and project controls team has worked across every sector MGAC touches, and our portfolio includes work on the most high-profile and complex building projects in the world. To each, we have brought deep expertise and customized solutions to every stage of development.

In our work, the only constant is change, and our team’s diverse experience and expertise keep us nimble, always. Over the years, we have seen—and met—every possible circumstance, every kind of challenge. Every day, more arise. The way buildings are built is changing. preconstruction looks dramatically different than it did just five years ago. Sustainability is at the forefront of new builds. Technology has moved to center stage. All these things affect cost and staying on top of these changes is what our team does best.

As a single-point-solution, we take great pride in digging into each project that comes through the door—making our clients’ goals our own, sweating the small stuff, and analyzing and measuring against every possible outcome along the way. We know that for our clients, cost doesn’t just boil down to construction expenses. There are other professional costs, permits, taxes, insurance payments, and so much more to consider the Total Project Budget. We make it our business to understand every part of our client’s business. Our foundational approach to this work is holistic by nature and extends far beyond merely managing scope and budgets. We are our clients’ eyes and ears on the ground and, when it comes down to it, we will do whatever it takes to keep complex builds on track and ensure successful project delivery. Over the years, we have done it time and time again. And with a full plate and exciting opportunities on the horizon, we know we are just getting started.

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