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KAI Enterprises marks 40 years, now nation’s largest minority-owned design and build firm

Michael Kennedy Jr., left, and Michael Kennedy Sr., right.

KAI Enterprises, a St. Louis-based design and build firm that has constructed projects in Metro East and across the nation, recently marked its 40th anniversary.

For the country’s largest minority-owned design and build firm, though, the celebration was lower key than planned.

“While we may not have been able to celebrate our milestone anniversary the way we had initially planned due to the pandemic, we celebrate every day knowing that our projects are making a difference in lives and communities, just as they have for the past 40 years,” said KAI CEO Michael Kennedy, Jr.

He said rebuilding communities that give children a safe place to live, learn and play, providing job opportunities for minorities and building housing for low-income residents is at the heart of KAI’s 40-year success story.

The company’s influence can be spotted across the region. In 2018, it completed renovation of former Rothman Furniture store into Art Van Furniture in Fairview Heights. In 2010, it designed the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford.

“As a Minority Business Enterprise, KAI started and has continued to serve the urban core of cities to transform distressed neighborhoods into thriving communities. We are, and have always been, about transforming communities, coming together in unity with the goal of making our communities a better place,” said Kennedy Jr. “This is who we’ve been and what we’ve been about since our inception 40 years ago, not just because it’s the current trend.”

KAI employs a diverse team of 135 architects, engineers, interior designers, builders and support staff at its headquarters in St. Louis and offices in Dallas-Fort Worth; Kansas City, Kansas; and Atlanta, Ga., with additional project offices throughout the U.S. The firm specializes in residential, commercial, K-12, higher education, healthcare, science and technology, aviation, mobility, sports and entertainment, government, water and community-focused projects. Over 60 percent of KAI’s projects are centered in what most would consider “project neighborhoods.”

In 1980, Kennedy’s father, Michael E. Kennedy Sr., RA founded Kennedy Associates Inc. in his hometown of St. Louis. Fascinated as a child with construction, Kennedy, Sr. faced prejudice as a young man when he was told by a high school guidance counselor that schools of architecture only took the cream of the crop, and no African Americans.

With few African American architects in the St. Louis area, discrimination in the industry fueled a determined Kennedy, Sr. even more to achieve his career goals. He would go on to graduate from Washington University’s School of Architecture, and in 1978 become the first African American architect registered in the State of Missouri.

In 2004, Kennedy Sr. rebranded Kennedy Associates into KAI Design & Build and four years later his son, Michael Kennedy Jr., became KAI’s president. At the start of 2019, KAI Design & Build restructured into parent company KAI Enterprises with four new subsidiaries – KAI Design, KAI Engineering, KAI Build and KAI 360 Construction Services.

“When KAI was established in 1980, we set a goal to achieve the highest standards of excellence in our work. Over the years, we have listened to our clients and learned what would most benefit them. As a result, we’ve added services, technology, quality control procedures and management tools to deliver quality, value-driven results that have made us a success,” said Kennedy, Sr.

With KAI’s strategic growth focused squarely on transforming communities, its diverse services as well as its geographic footprint will allow KAI to fully serve its partners across the country and well into the future.

“2020 has been a year to take pause and get introspective. The intentional and purposeful moves we made years ago helped us navigate this year as well as create the platform for us to leverage the opportunities before us,” said KAI President Darren L. James, FAIA. “With our resources connected virtually and, in some cases, physically, KAI will make a larger positive influence on the built environment and our industry.

“Each of our cities will experience the increased talent level, subject matter expertise and passion for positively changing the environment as evidenced by our commitment beyond design and construction. Over the next 40 years, KAI will be the firm of choice by both high-level talent of all stages of their careers and clients attracted to our vision of transforming communities through integrated design and construction excellence.”

KAI celebrated some of its most transformative community projects during its 40-year history:

Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center – Atlanta, Ga.
Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis Teen Center of Excellence – Ferguson, Mo.
South Oak Cliff High School – Dallas, Texas
Metropolitan Sewer District (Multiple Projects) – St. Louis
San Antonio Promise Zone (Four Projects) – San Antonio, Texas
Reby Cary Youth Library – Fort Worth, Texas
The Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being – St. Louis
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (Multiple Projects) – Dallas, Texas
DFW International Airport (Multiple Projects) – Dallas, Texas
Metro Transit – St. Louis (Multiple Projects) – St. Louis
VIA Metropolitan Transit Brooks City Base Transit Center – San Antonio, Texas
St. Louis Community College Center for Nursing & Health Sciences – St. Louis
BJC West County Replacement Hospital – St. Louis
KAI has been instrumental in transforming communities through residential, commercial, K-12, higher education, healthcare, science and technology, aviation, mobility, sports and entertainment, government, water and community-focused projects.


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