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INDUSTRY MAG: The Maverick

From Industry Magazine:

Could a city grown accustomed to century-old methods of construction think anew? One developer bet yes, and the results are stunning

By Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos by Amessé Photography
In 2003, after years of working for some of the city’s top construction firms, Anthony Rinaldi took a risk and opened a non-union based building group in the traditionally union-heavy New York City construction landscape.

“In the early 2000s, I started to see a change in the dynamics of the city” Rinaldi said. “I started to see a desire for developers to go non-union. And as a new company, competing for work with major construction companies with long histories, I knew I had to do something that made my company unique.”

So, Rinaldi, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University, and with years of experience and technical expertise, took on a sort of David and Goliath battle with some of the city’s construction giants.

“I knew if we could combine the sophistication, technical know-how, and experience of a major union construction management firm in a non-union setting, we’d have success,” he said. “We could provide the owner with a price that was 20 to 30 percent less, which is huge for developers who are paying far too much for their dirt. There has to be relief somewhere, and where we find it is in the cost of construction. I was offering a product that separated us from the rest.”

But historically, this is the largest Union City in the country, where a great many jobs and wages have been union controlled since the 1800s. However, in recent years, things started to change, Rinaldi said, and he felt it was time to modify how some of the city’s major construction projects were managed.

“I think there was a time in this country when labor was abused and unions had a function. They were necessary to protect the worker, but the pendulum has swung and unions went from necessary to almost abusive,” Rinaldi explained.

There were a number of jurisdictional disputes, Rinaldi claimed, which often stopped work and put both contractor and developer at risk financially.

“It was a mentality in the construction world that just got worse and worse,” Rinaldi said. “I’m trying to produce the best work for my client, but am unable to do so because of so much conflict and battle for control. I simply decided that I would not let anyone else control my business but me.”

The transition wasn’t exactly simple for Rinaldi. He was raised union—his father was a Hoboken police captain and his father-in-law a laborer with Local 79, both men of union backgrounds. And after earning his degree from Lehigh, Rinaldi worked for both George A. Fuller and HRH Construction, two of the city’s major union-based construction management firms.

And the developers he was courting had reservations, too. But when a number of fully licensed and insured non-union crane companies started cropping up, Rinaldi says many union guys started to convert.

He opened his Secaucus-based company, The Rinaldi Group, and secured a first big break in 2005 when a former colleague reached out for assistance on a $500 million project in White Plains.

“We worked hand in hand to build the Ritz Carlton Hotel and the two adjacent 47-story condominium towers,” Rinaldi recalled.

That led to another major project funded by John Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Group in 2008.

“Catsimatidis owns a lot of real estate and a variety of businesses, but this was his first development project,” Rinaldi said.

It was a massive undertaking, consisting of two city blocks in downtown Brooklyn: one area reserved for a 40-story high-end condominium tower, the other for a mid-rise affordable housing project. That year the financial industry collapsed, however, so Catsimatidis reorganized the project, breaking it down into four smaller phases.

The mid-rise buildings were built smack in the middle of a then-trending neighborhood—in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, not far from the Barclays Center and all of its booming commerce.

“Catsimatidis gave us a real big shot,” Rinaldi said.

Other Brooklyn jobs followed. One on Nassau Street (also at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge), another on Water Street (the latter named multifamily residential project of the year by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce).

“That project was a 200,000-squarefoot conversion of a landmark shoe factory,” Rinaldi said. “We turned it into 135 luxury high-end loft rental units and the work had to be coordinated with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and other local and state agencies. It really was a wonderful transformation.” It also served as proof that Rinaldi had carved a niche in this city for his brand of building.

“There are only a handful of companies like ours in this city, but I think our willingness to go the distance for our clients really separates us from the competition,” he said. “We do a number of things relative to cost that our competition does not do. Plus we provide a level of trust that has given our name a very good reputation in this industry.”

For Rinaldi and his staff, that translates into consistent growth. The group is currently working on a hotel, theater, and mixed-use space in Harlem which will break ground in 2015, while an ultra-high-end condominium conversion in Manhattan is slated for a 2017 completion.

The Rinaldi Group currently maintains a book of business in excess of $400 million, and was recently recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest growing companies in America.

“It’s been an action-packed ten years,” Rinaldi said. “It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and we’ve certainly paid our dues to be here, but I feel very blessed and thankful to be in this position.”

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