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Steve Rivers, Austin Commercial

Steve Rivers has helped lead construction on some of Orlando’s most loved and lauded projects – the Mall at Millenia, Darden Restaurants’ headquarters, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and more recently, Universal’s Volcano Bay.

He has called Central Florida home since 1999, arriving as a young project executive who headed up the Orlando office for Hardin Construction. But the Atlanta native admits that even with 120 or so staffers in his charge, 10 years ago you could have just as easily run into him in a 7-Eleven bathroom as you might have on a job site.

“That’s where I’d be changing out of my suit into a baseball uniform,” he laughs.

Rivers was logging long hours growing Hardin’s business, but he was accruing figurative overtime as the baseball coach for Winter Park’s Circle Christian School students – five of which were his sons.

Rivers, you see, is the proud father of eight.

These days his brood’s ages range from 14 to 31 – with a Marine Special-Ops Captain, Army Ranger and Air Force Second Lieutenant among them. Baseball coaching is behind Rivers now, but you’ll still see him leading the team of Austin Commercial in his role as vice president for the Southeast Region.

At the time of this interview, the Port Royale project at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort was looming large in Rivers’ lens, but his off-hour thoughts were largely musical.

“When I was a kid, most people probably would have guessed I’d either end up as an architect or a musician,” Rivers theorizes. He calls himself “left- and right-brained,” the son of an engineer father and a mom whose life, even now in her 80s, is devoted to the arts.

“She majored in music,” he Rivers says of his mother. “She’s been on TV, she sings in commercials. She does local theater now – she recently played Daisy in ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’  She traveled internationally with the Fletcher Wolfe Chorale, which was the big Atlanta chorale … she’s a very talented lady.”

In high school, the music bug – wholly supported by mom – bit Steve and his brother Mark, hard.

“I played guitar and my brother started as a drummer. We found some other guys and had two or three bands. It was progressive rock; we were into Rush and Robin Trower….”

By the time he got to college at Georgia Tech, where he studied architecture full-time, the band -- called Major Haze -- had gotten more serious. Rivers had transitioned to bass.

“It was the classic bass player story in that we had plenty of guitar players but needed someone on bass,” he jokes, “but my brother was the drummer, so we were the perfect match and I think our natural timing was part of our success.”

Gigs at local clubs ensued.

 “We won Battle of the Bands a couple of years in a row. We played a big charity fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with three other bands in Chastain Park in Atlanta, which is a really cool outdoor venue. (See the 1983 performance here; Rivers is the shirtless bass player in yellow pants.) The last time I was there I saw Paul Simon.”

About six months before graduation, though, came the career crossroads. Rivers’ band had gigs booked up and down the east coast.

“Go on the road? Or cut my hair and get a real job?”

The latter won out. Rivers left Georgia Tech with a degree in building construction. He’d changed majors in the course of his studies, but says his artistic side – which includes poetry and short stories -- has been quite valuable in business.

“I can sit in a room with architects, interface with designers and understand what they’re trying to achieve – though my wife says the two sides of my brain make me … complicated,” Rivers laughs.

Brother Mark, however, stayed the course. He lives in Los Angeles where he’s a successful writer of both music (for shows like “Parks & Rec” and “Big Mouth”) and comedy (for notables like Jimmy Kimmel).

And while Rivers isn’t looking to get the old band back together, he recently pulled the bass out to brush off the rust – with plans to get a new one going. Rock covers for fun, he says, perhaps for the beach bars near his Merritt Island home.

A.D. Thompson
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