Ownership Changes in the 1990s
The leadership hiatus caused by Cranston's illness highlighted the need for daily management presence in Cashiers and foreshadowed the gap that would follow his subsequent retirement. He decided to begin his withdrawal from the firm in 1989, selling his interest back to the firm over the following ten years. Theoretically, his responsibilities were limited, with management functions carried on by the office manager. In practice though, Cranston, the ever-ardent worker, came to work in Cashiers every day of that entire time, no longer actively bossing, but offering wise counsel on the direction of the company.
Dennis Welch joined Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C. in 1993, bringing his background in construction management for roads and for municipal water and sewer projects, which he applied to designing highways, large drainage projects, and residential subdivisions. His broad-ranging construction and design experiences soon enabled him to manage the firm's municipal engineering practice for several years before taking charge of the private development design group in 2007.
Over the next few years the Augusta office flourished, while the Cashiers office struggled following Craig Cranston's retirement. Ridge Whitehurst oversaw the office that operated under the daily supervision of a series of office managers. It became clear that the branch manager must be a principal of the firm to insure success and none of the partners were in a position to make the move. In fact, the most readily developable land in the Highlands-Cashiers area had already been developed and future design assignments offered to the firm seemed to be of increasingly inferior quality. The very success of the upscale mountain lifestyles that the company had helped achieve ironically made the local area too expensive for its employees to live "on the mountain." As a result, the Cashiers office was closed in 1997 and the operations consolidated in the home office in Augusta.
That did not mean that engineering for mountainous projects was over for the company. The design of new phases of Big Canoe and Linville Ridge continued unabated and new endeavors continued to emerge: like the notable conservation subdivision The Reserve at Lake Keowee in upstate South Carolina.
The Augusta River Walk continued to be a signature project for Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C., following the completion of the first phase in 1984. Tom Robertson led the firm's efforts over the next ten years, conceiving and designing additional phases, so that the Augusta River Walk reached a length of eight city blocks and garnered many prestigious design awards. This success has led Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C. to waterfront design and planning assignments in other cities.
The firm became engaged in regional planning for cities and counties through Tom Robertson's volunteer community involvement as chairman of the Augusta Canal Authority, where he oversaw the development of its highly successful regional heritage area plan. The company entered joint ventures with ICON Architecture, Inc. of Boston on such planning assignments as the South Carolina Heritage Corridor, Wilmington Downtown Plan, Cape Fear River Corridor, and North Augusta Riverfront Redevelopment, establishing the firm as a leader in this arena of planning practice.
Land use planning continued also as a mainstay of the service repertoire. Several particular opportunities of working on large tracts presented themselves during the 1990s due to a pattern of timber companies divesting themselves of large land holdings. As one example, the firm prepared a master land use plan for the 1,000-acre Euchee Creek tract into golf-oriented communities, conventional subdivisions, and neo-traditional neighborhoods. This plan enabled an investment group led by Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate Company to develop the successful Bartram Trail Club.