Ryan General Contractors

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 8/08/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21260

Ryan General Contractors was founded in 1991 by Donald Bruce McIntosh (b. 1951) as Steelcraft Construction. The company specialized in pre-engineered and structural steel buildings. A few years later, to appeal to a wider customer base, McIntosh renamed the company Ryan General Contractors. Initially known for its work with casinos and wineries, the company began building schools and churches. Today [2021], Ryan General Contractors is one of the top builders of churches in Washington. It has handled construction projects for high-visibility clients, including display buildings for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's personal collection of World War II aircraft, as well as a new luxury hotel in the historic district of the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. The current company president is Ryan McIntosh, son of the founder. On June 1, 2021, the company moved from Woodinville to Lynnwood.

From Casinos to Churches

Ryan General Contractors, started in 1991 by Donald McIntosh, primarily builds churches, schools, fitness facilities, wineries, shops, and warehouses. Most of its customers are located in Western Washington, although it has undertaken construction projects in Eastern Washington, Alaska, California, Idaho, and Oregon.

Initially, McIntosh called the business Steelcraft Construction because most of its early projects involved steel buildings. In 1993, he changed the company name to Ryan General Contractors in an effort to attract a broader customer base. Ryan, not coincidentally, is the name of McIntosh's only son. Ryan McIntosh (b. 1978), company president, was an eighth-grader when the business was renamed. Whether the company was named for him or not is part of McIntosh family lore: "My dad used to say the company was named for the hero of one of his favorite writers, Tom Clancy, whose main character was named Jack Ryan. Later he told me he did not want me to feel obligated to go into the family business. When I started to show an interest in construction, then he admitted he had named the company for me" (Ryan McIntosh interview).

Its early customer base revolved around the casino and wine industries. In the 1990s, Ryan General Contractors completed a 22,000-square-foot winery in Sunnyside for Paul Thomas Wines (the company was later rebranded as Covey Run); built tasting and banquet rooms for Village Wines in Woodinville; and undertook a tenant-improvement project for DeLille Cellars, also in Woodinville, where an existing building was converted into offices and a tasting room.

By the early 2000s, Ryan General Contractors had moved from working with wineries and casinos to constructing schools and churches. The shift did not come about without some forethought. In 2000, Donald McIntosh began to travel regularly with Willamette Medical Teams, a nonprofit organization from Albany, Oregon, that provides healthcare, water recovery, business development, and leadership training to developing countries. Willamette also builds churches and schools in communities overseas, where the need is great. The work was so fulfilling that he realigned his business to more closely reflect his personal values. As Ryan McIntosh explained, "We build more churches than just about any other contractor in the state, with up to 15 different church projects going on at any one time" (Ryan McIntosh interview).

McIntosh Twins Follow Similar Path

Donald Bruce McIntosh was born in 1951 in Sunnyside. Together with his twin brother David Blair McIntosh (1951-2016), he would help his grandfather, an undertaker, with his funeral home and ambulance service. When a death was reported, the young men were sent out in the ambulance to pick up the deceased and bring the corpse back to the funeral home so it could be prepared for burial. As the business grew, the funeral home needed more space. The family tore down the existing structure and built a new one, giving the teenagers an early taste of construction.

This experience may have steered the twins toward construction as a career, since both men followed the same career path: Each owned a construction company and both had sons who succeeded them as company presidents. Donald founded Ryan General Contractors, while David's construction business was located in Santa Rosa, California.

Donald graduated from Sunnyside High School and spent four years in the U.S. Navy, which included service in Vietnam.  During his years in the military, he worked as a mechanic, servicing jet engines on an aircraft carrier. On August 21, 1976, while employed as an iron worker, 24-year-old Donald married 21-year-old Rebecca Joanne Weidle, and the couple had two children.

Mission Trips

The interest in serving those less fortunate impacted the business in several ways. Not only did the company focus on building more schools and churches, but McIntosh began to encourage employees to participate on mission teams at company expense. Ryan GC employees have worked as volunteers in Peru, Kenya, Venezuela, Chile, and Sierra Leone, among other locations. In 2003, the company sent a team to Maipu, Chile, to build a two-story guard house at a church that had been repeatedly vandalized. The following year, again in Maipu, a team helped build a classroom. In 2005, Ryan GC sent workers to another small town in Chile, Laurato, to help build a church.

A project in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, took on a different challenge. Sierra Leone, as with many under-developed countries, has limited access to clean drinking water. Many villages obtain their water from ponds, rivers, and unprotected wells, which can contain parasites, bacteria, and other impurities. Poor drinking water contributes significantly to Sierra Leone's high child-mortality rates and low life expectancy. The volunteer team from Ryan GC helped hand-dig wells using simple equipment that could be easily carried into remote areas. The team also built small metal sheds over the wells to protect the water.

Aircraft Hangars and Boutique Hotels

In 2018, Ryan GC built Vine Maple Place, a 15,000-square-foot construction project for a nonprofit in Maple Valley that included a daycare, adult education area, offices, and counseling suite. In 2019, Ryan completed an interior and exterior remodel of Lilac Lodge, a low-income housing complex in Seattle that offers rental options for seniors. Other renovations included Canyon Hills Community Church, Mosaic Community Church, and Calvary Apostolic Tabernacle.

The company has also handled construction projects for more well-known clients. One of these was the Flying Heritage Collection (FHC), which housed Paul Allen's vintage aircraft collection. A Microsoft co-founder, Allen (1953-2018) was a man of many interests, from music to science fiction to flight. As a boy, he enjoyed building model airplanes. As an adult, he collected the real things -- restored aircraft that were mainly of World War II vintage. Allen's valuable military collection has been painstakingly restored from jumbled wrecks to aircraft that can be flown. Allen initially housed the collection in a 1940s hangar in Arlington (Snohomish County), open by appointment only, but it quickly outgrew the space.

Allen's company, Vulcan Inc., contacted Ryan General Contractors to get a bid on a new metal hangar at Paine Field in Everett. Officials in Snohomish County were happy to welcome the new tenant. "The Snohomish County Council approved a 10-year lease that will cost Allen about $350,000 a year. As part of his lease agreement, Allen would make more than $5 million in improvements to the hangar on the southeast corner of Paine Field. He will be partially reimbursed by the county in rent credits" (Siderius).

Because the new building would be open to the public, it came with a different set of specifications. "The project's needs went beyond the addition of space for airplanes. The FHC requested a theater that would seat up to 50 people, along with a reception area for merchandising opportunities. ... There was another functional design requirement: two 80-foot hangar doors. Because the planes are fully restored and taken out regularly to fly, the aircraft frequently are on the move. It's not the standard museum environment where planes stay put" (Butler Manufacturing).

Vulcan was pleased with Ryan GC's handling of the initial building and requested the company's services several times as the site expanded. "Ryan went above and beyond to keep the project on schedule. The company even moved a project manager into a camper on-site to stay on top of the project. This on-site commitment ... impressed Vulcan while also driving building efficiencies" (Butler Manufacturing).

The expanded space enabled Allen's collection to grow from 12 to 19 aircraft. As Ryan McIntosh explained, "The building, while industrial in nature, is pretty commercial, and it doesn't take away from the incredible machinery it's home to. This was such an exciting project because we were able to bring exposure to an amazing collection of planes" (Butler Manufacturing). In spring 2020, the museum, now called the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum, closed because of the pandemic; its future was uncertain.

Another high-profile project was a new luxury hotel, Hotel Ballard, next to the Olympic Athletic Club. Located at 4214 Ballard Avenue NW in Ballard's historic district, the site once housed the neighborhood's first bowling alley. When Ryan GC got involved, the building was being used as a warehouse.

The 29-room hotel, constructed in 2013, was Ballard's first full-service hotel. Developers Jim and Debera Riggle spent nearly $16 million to develop the property and another $500,000 to remodel the existing athletic club, providing, "the feel of a New York City neighborhood hotel" (Williams). The team at Ryan GC was tasked with constructing 50,000 square feet of space from the ground up plus three stories of underground parking with spaces for 63 cars, as well as an extensive remodel of the building next door.

In 2021, Ryan General Contractors moved its headquarters from Woodinville to Lynnwood.


Christina Siderius, "Billionaire's Passion Lands at Paine," The Seattle Times, April 30, 2008, p. F-10; Brier Dudley, "Hooked on Flying," The Seattle Times, June 9, 2008, p. E-1; Allison Williams, "Hotel Ballard Opens, So Let's All Vacation in Ballard," Seattle Met, May 10, 2013 (https://www.seattlemet.com/travel-and-outdoors/2013/05/hotel-ballard-opens-so-lets-all-vacation-in-ballard-may-2013); Marc Stiles, "Ballard Transformation: Boutique Hotel Opening on Former Bowling Alley Site," Puget Sound Business Journal, February 20, 2013 (https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/2013/02/from-bowling-alley-to-boutique-hotel.html); "Aviation Museum Achieves LEED Silver Certification," Butler Manufacturing website accessed May 7, 2021 (https://www.butlermfg.com/story/flying-heritage-collection/); "Our Portfolio & Projects," Ryan General Contractors website accessed May 7, 2021 (https://www.ryangc.com/commercial-construction.html); "Giving Back," Ryan General Contractors website accessed May 4, 2021 (https://www.ryangc.com/build-a-classroom.html); Rita Cipalla interview with Ryan McIntosh, May 3, 2021, Seattle, transcript in possession of Rita Cipalla, Seattle.

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