MARK BELKO, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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With $4,000 in savings and a $5,000 loan from his parents, Joseph Massaro Jr. took a gamble 50 years ago to start his own construction company, one that completed five projects worth $251,000 in its first year.
From those humble roots, the Massaro Corp. has grown into one of the region’s largest contractors, with $180 million a year in revenue. Last year, it did $185 million worth of construction business.
The tale has been a mix of success and perseverance, particularly in the 1980s when Massaro fell upon hard times but pulled out of it with the help, shall we say, of some divine assistance.
From its start as a general contractor, Massaro has grown into four divisions — property, construction management, and restoration, as well as general contracting — with the continued growth credited to its solid roots.
“I think just doing what we say we’re going to do. Being honest, being ethical, doing the right thing — all of those things our father instilled in us,” said David Massaro, president of Massaro Properties.
The company’s first job, half a century ago, came in the Strip District, where it built the Louis Brothers warehouse on Penn Avenue. Since then, it has left its fingerprints all over the region.
It built the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside as part of a joint venture with another construction company, P.J. Dick. Massaro was involved in the construction of the former National Steel Building at 20 Stanwix St. and the Grant Street Transportation Center, home to parking and the Greyhound Bus terminal, at the entrance to the Strip District.
On the North Shore, Massaro is building the 1,000-space Lot 1 parking garage scheduled for completion in May.
The company also erected the nearby West General Robinson Street garage, plus three North Shore hotels — the Holiday Inn Express, the SpringHill Suites, and the Marriott Residence Inn.
Massaro also has done a 3,000-bed student housing replacement project at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the national award-winning Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College.
Among the projects it currently is involved in are the construction of an outpatient care center for Conemaugh Health System in Johnstown; the Empire, a 17-story apartment complex in Oakland; and a 144-room Marriott Residence Inn, also in Oakland.
Steven Massaro, president of Massaro Corp. and Massaro Construction Management Services, quoted one of his dad’s sayings — “Get up, pack your lunch, and go to work” — as being a key to the company culture.
“That kind of simplistic approach, when you’re hearing that growing up, you don’t really understand what it means. But when you get to our age, you realize that was simple advice but really good advice,” he said.
The company hasn’t always been so fortunate.
The low point came in the 1980s, when a series of bad investments, including a bid to convert the Motor Square Garden in East Liberty into a mall and a condominium project in Atlantic City, had Massaro on the ropes.
With the firm struggling to survive, help came in the form of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, who hired Massaro to do a multimillion-dollar renovation of the motherhouse.
“It was a nice project to be handed to you. The sisters showed great faith in my dad and Massaro when 97 percent of the market was not showing faith in us,” Steven Massaro said. “We will always be eternally grateful for the sisters putting us back on the map.”
While the Motor Square Garden project was unsuccessful, David Massaro likes to think it showed that his father was ahead of the times in envisioning a comeback for East Liberty.
About five years ago, Massaro teamed with Walnut Capital to convert the Highland Building in East Liberty into apartments. From there, the dome of Motor Square Garden is visible, David Massaro noted.
“It really makes me proud to know we survived all of that and that we were able to come back and do a project in the same area that my father loved so much,” he said.
Joseph Massaro Jr. died in 2015, leaving his sons Steven, David, and Joseph III, president and CEO of Massaro Construction Group, to carry on his legacy. His daughter, Linda, also is a part owner of the company, which employs about 300 people.
In recent years, Massaro has gravitated toward projects involving health care and higher education, taking advantage of the strengths in the Pittsburgh market.
Headquartered in the RIDC Park in O’Hara, it has been doing work for UPMC at its Mercy, Montefiore and Presbyterian locations.
It also is involved in a $10 million addition and renovation to the State College Area high school and the construction of a new middle school and a new elementary school in the Cumberland Valley School District, projects worth $75 million.
For the foreseeable future, Massaro likely will stay involved in the health care and higher education projects that have come to be its bread and butter.
The three Massaro brothers and their sister also plan to keep the company in the family, which includes 15 grandchildren.
“They’ll have somewhere to hang their hat,” Steven Massaro said.
Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 19, 2017