General contractor DiMarco Constructors has built commercial and retail buildings in 15 states, from Michigan to Maine to Kentucky, but one of its largest and most recent projects is smack dab in the middle of its home city of Rochester, New York, which is revitalizing its downtown with more commercial and residential spaces.
DiMarco is partnering with property owner, Winn Development, on the Sibley Square Project, a 1.2 million square foot, mixed-use facility in downtown Rochester that will house apartments, offices, stores, restaurants, college offices and classrooms, some of which will be ready in fall 2017.
President and CEO, John DiMarco II, and his brother Joel, represent the fourth generation to head the family business, which was founded in 1910 and has since grown into a property development group, called the DiMarco Group, which encompasses five, independent businesses.
The DiMarco Group includes a property development and design-build firm with the same name; Baldwin Real Estate, a real estate and property management company; DiMarco Constructors, a general contractor; J. DiMarco Builders, a specialty contractor and facilities maintenance company; and Admar Supply, which rents construction equipment in the 4,000 to 5,000 pound range to contractors.
DiMarco says the family enterprise is unique because each company does 50-85 percent of business with outside clients, rather than only working on DiMarco-owned properties.
“They’re not divisions of one business,” he says. “They’re separate businesses with their own employees and their own business models.
Sibley Square is a perfect example of how DiMarco Constructors’ uses the real estate and property management experience of its sister companies to guide clients through all phases of the construction process, DiMarco says. This makes it especially valuable to clients who are expanding for the first time, or expanding into an unfamiliar market.
Winn Development had plenty of experience renovating and re-purposing big urban spaces, but it had never done a mixed use project. DiMarco Group guided Winn through the process of juggling contracts and regulations for tenants in four different markets including affordable housing, market rate housing, higher education and retail spaces.
DiMarco Group also helped Winn Development navigate wide ranging requirements for the flow of foot traffic. Retail centers need customers to get in and out quickly, while appointment-based businesses, like eye doctors or hairdressers, may have customers visit for an hour or more.
DiMarco Group can design spaces to promote traffic flow that suits each type of business, which includes building extra parking space. He says this kind of work is cropping up in other mixed use projects where self-contained medical businesses, coexist with traditional retail spaces in plazas or malls.
“Our niche is to manage the projects that aren’t straightforward for the client,” DiMarco says. “If they have something they do all the time, our niche is to help them with the one that’s off their sweet spot.”
Builder and manager
Similarly, DiMarco Constructors helped Monroe Community College navigate unfamiliar territory when the school needed student housing. Community colleges don’t usually have student housing, which made it difficult to figure out who would build, finance and run the facility.
Normally the school would partner with the local government and its preferred contractors, but in this case the school had no contacts with contractors experienced in housing, so the organizers turned to DiMarco, who designed and built the nearly $12 million, 410 bed facility before turning it over to the non-profit MCC Association that manages other university facilities like the campus bookstore.
“They had never done that before and we provided comfort to the student life people,” he says.
Currently, DiMarco Constructors is acting as the construction manager for the college’s new downtown campus in Rochester. DiMarco says this is a totally separate service from the general contracting it did on the student housing and in this case it is overseeing the management of the project while the county provides contractors to do the building. He adds that this is a prime case where the relationship between DiMarco Constructors’ and its client extends beyond any limited scope of service.
“We’d rather follow our clients [to different projects] than stay in our market,” he says.
Two sides to the sword
Though the group’s experience is an asset and informs how it approaches clients; DiMarco points out that it’s not an inherent advantage.
“I don’t think [owning other companies] is an advantage as much as a differentiator,” he says. He says it can be helpful by making them stand out to clients like Monroe Community College, but adds that standing out can be a liability in the hard-bid world, where some owners want to work with companies that are easy to categorize and compare.
There are also challenges associated with juggling the separate but interrelated customers for each company within the DiMarco Group. For example, DiMarco says that a subcontractor who rents equipment from Admar, his construction supply company, may be upset if he isn’t picked by the DiMarco Constructors to work on one of its jobs.
For DiMarco, these challenges are ultimately pretty minor and if anything, keeps the company on its toes. DiMarco says the solution in every case is honest communication and adds that juggling relationships across companies makes the DiMarco Group as a whole, “inherently moral” because every company must keep their relationships simple by telling the truth.
“When one company’s vendor is another company’s client, it’s hard not to be straightforward and direct,” he says. “Otherwise you burn bridges that will come back to hurt you.”
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