|Architectural firm's focus on shared values springs from deep valley roots|
Ferdie De Vega
The Desert Sun
August 1, 2005
COACHELLA - Eleanor Torres and Tony Palmisano say working on projects in the eastern Coachella Valley has allowed them to reconnect with a part of their families' past.
They own the architectural firm Integrated Infrastructures Inc., which is based in Ontario and has an office in Coachella. Torres' scouting trips for projects brought her to the growing east valley.
"Both Tony and I have relatives who did picking here," said Torres, whose grandmother worked in the fields in Coachella.
Torres, 46, is a fourth generation Californian who grew up in Los Angeles County.
Palmisano, 47, is a native of Rancho Cucamonga. His father came here from Italy. He was a carpenter, but worked in the fields because he didn't speak English at the time, Palmisano said.
His father later helped build houses in Palm Springs and settled in the Ontario area. Palmisano's parents now live in Upland.
"We started out with working with DACE (Desert Alliance for Community Empowerment) out here," he said, noting the Oasis Community Center was one of their first projects.
The company also has worked with Alman Homes and the Santa Rosa del Valle health center.
Altura Credit Union, the city of Coachella, DACE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development enlisted Integrated Infrastructures to transform the old Coachella Fire House into an Altura branch office.
Torres said she and Palmisano wanted Integrated Infrastructures to a "service-oriented" company.
"As a result, that kind of value system is very attractive to social service-based organizations," she said.
"They just have a lot of social passion in what they do," said Jeff Hays, executive director of DACE and Rancho Housing Alliance Inc. "That's the spark that got us involved."
The Altura Credit Union's new branch office "was a huge thing for Coachella, as well as bringing a building back to life and bringing in a service that was needed," he said.
"We like to know we're leaving something behind that people can grow from," Torres said. "Too many communities are focused on surviving. We need to get our communities beyond surviving and into thriving.
"We want to be part of stimulating the economy in this community," she said. "There's a real opportunity to look at how the Coachella Valley can grow, particularly on the east side."
Torres started Integrated Infrastructures in 2000 as an environmental consulting company that specialized in sustainable designs.
In 2003, Palmisano joined, and it became an architectural firm. He has 20 years of experience and began his architectural career with residential work. For nearly 15 years, he designed public schools, hospitals and civic centers.
The couple met when she was director of an environmental group. She's worked in public policy since 1987.
Torres has been a public relations officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has served as a consultant and member of the Altadena Town Council. She has extensive experience with governmental agencies, community organizations and churches.
"When Tony and I met, we realized we had a joint value system with how we plan communities," Torres said.
Their goal is to "engage the community, or our client, as a partner with us," she said.
"We wanted to do things differently," Palmisano said. "We want to do things where we talk to folks in the community."
They seek to understand "the context of the community and what they're about," he said, adding they solicit input from everyone in the community.
"This valley is very unique geographically and environmentally, and we're up to the challenge," Torres said.
"Our job is to find out what Coachella architecture is," she said. "Our job is to reveal what Coachella architecture is."
The residents of Coachella "want to celebrate cultural diversity," Torres said. "Culturally, this is a remarkable community. We're not going to come here to tell people, 'This is what you were, and this is what you're doing and this is what you want to be.'"
Torres said most of the company's projects during the past two years have come through word of mouth. "The best marketing strategy we've used is being up-front and providing good services."
The company has grown by being "very careful" about the overhead costs, she said. "I think what's really grown the business is this: We understand that so many clients in a booming community are going to need public structures."
Torres added that Palmisano "knows how to work with the contracting community."
The company is "pragmatic and practical with contractors," she said, adding within the next three years, it's probable the company's headquarters will move to the Coachella Valley from Ontario.
Integrated Infrastructures' next projects in the valley are the Date Museum and the master plan for the Coachella Valley Museum complex.
"What a remarkable privilege and gift to be given the stewardship of something like that," Torres said.
INTEGRATED INFRASTRUCTURES INC.
Headquarters: Ontario, with an office in Coachella
Owners: Eleanor Torres and Tony Palmisano
Founded: Started in 2000 as an environmental consulting company. With the addition of Palmisano, the company added architectural services.
Business description: An architectural firm specializing in public projects and the design of public space.
Projected revenues: $400,000
Source of startup funding: Torres' consulting work.
Cost of startup: $10,000
Marketing budget: $5,000
Did you have a business plan?
Torres: Yes. It didn't work the way we thought. It was a much more organic growth than we expected.
What's the biggest thing you've learned since starting the business?
Torres: For me personally, I've learned about some of where my roots come from. It's affirming for me. It's also affirmed the work ethic I have. I have just learned from the tenacity and spirit (of Coachella residents).
Palmisano: For me, it's the difference between working for other folks - where the other person has the responsibility - and this, where we have the responsibility.
Did you ask anyone for advice?
Torres:We spoke to engineering firms and large architectural firms. We bucked almost every opinion given us.
Palmisano: I talked to another architect I worked with.
How many hours do you work per week?
Torres: 50 to 55
Information: 1334 N. Sultana Ave., Ontario; 53-990 Enterprise Way, Suite 3, Coachella; (909) 460-1338; www.3i-s.com