Structure Power

Brick by brick, Pizzagalli Properties has helped draw the face of Chittenden County and beyond

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Mike Tomkowicz (left), treasurer, and Bob Bouchard, development manager, guide the day-to-day operations of Pizzagalli Properties in South Burlington. The company has regional offices in North Carolina and owns and manages properties in Vermont, Maine, New York, and North Carolina.

On April 1, 1958, Angelo G. Pizzagalli launched a precast stone business. He died the following year, but his sons, Angelo, Remo, and Jim, carried on, building Pizzagalli Construction Co. into one of Vermont’s most respected employers — and most respected contractors. 

In the 50 years since, the brothers have sold the construction company to their employees, retaining ownership of Pizzagalli Properties LLC, which was consolidated under one corporate name in 1997. “The Pizzagalli family is very, very proud of this company,” says Bob Bouchard, development manager at Pizzagalli Properties’ South Burlington office, “and not only the company they’ve created, but the many jobs that this company provides.”

Pizzagalli Properties has made its own mark on the economies of Vermont and North Carolina, where it has a regional office. The company is involved in all aspects of commercial real estate development. That includes land acquisition, permitting, financing, construction, leasing, and building management. Although properties are occasionally sold — and the company does turnkey work — the primary focus is to hold properties for the long term. 

In a May 1988 story about the Pizzagalli brothers in Business Digest, as Business People-Vermont was then called, Mark Pendergrast wrote of the low profile they prefer to keep and their reluctance to talk about themselves. That reluctance remains, but we were given permission to write our story on Pizzagalli Properties. As Pendergrast wrote in 1988, “That leaves plenty to talk about, since the company encompasses such an array of people and projects.” 

The lion’s share of the company’s properties is owned and managed in-house. Vanessa Lavigne (left) is accounting assistant, Liz Bossi is accounting manager, and Christina D’Onofrio is staff accountant.

Jim Pizzagalli is president of Pizzagalli Properties. He and his two brothers own upwards of 90 percent of the company, and all have offices there, but he is the most active of the three. 

“I would say Angelo and Remo function as board members,” Pizzagalli says. “We don’t have a really formal board structure, but my brothers and I consult regularly on a range of issues. We certainly discuss matters related to Pizzagalli Properties, and they get involved in a hands-on basis when needed.”

Mike Tomkowicz, treasurer, and Bouchard manage the day-to-day operations of the company in Vermont. Tomkowicz says he left his native Connecticut, “came up to St. Michael’s College in 1970 and never went back.” 

Out of college, he did accounting for two companies, one of which was in real estate development, before being hired by Pizzagalli in 1979 as an accounting supervisor at Pizzagalli Construction. “It was kind of a natural fit for me,” he says. 

After a year or so, Tomkowicz was invited to move to Pizzagalli Properties. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ So around 1980, I devoted full time to the real estate company.” He and his wife, Carol, who works for the engineering firm McFarland Johnson Inc., have three grown children and live in South Burlington.

Bouchard is a South Burlington native who studied business at Champlain College before heading to St. Michael’s College to finish his degree in business. 

After graduating in 1985, and unsure whether he could find employment at a decent salary in Vermont, he took a job with Marriott Corp. in Boston, “to spread my wings, so to speak,” he says, later admitting that his high school sweetheart, Rebecca Bouchard — “no relation” — finished up at St. Michael’s before he did and headed for Boston. He followed her. 

A little over a year later, he learned of an opening for assistant property manager at Pizzagalli Properties. Bouchard interviewed with Tomkowicz, but the person who informed him of the opening was his father, Ron Bouchard, the executive vice president of Pizzagalli Properties, who had worked for the company since 1969 and was the one responsible for tapping Tomkowicz.  “He was a big part of getting me into the business,” Bouchard says. “He taught me everything.

He and Rebecca were married in 1987 and have two daughters, Sydney, 16, and Jillian, 17, who attend Bouchard’s alma mater, Rice Memorial High School. They live in Shelburne. “I am very close to my family,” he says. “I live next door to my brother, Ron, who works for Homestead Design, and my father, Ron, who retired in 2000.”

At work, Bouchard handles the first part of the process: He buys the land; coordinates the design; acquires local and state permits; oversees construction, including design and finishes; markets the properties and the available space; consults with the commercial brokerage community; prepares proposals; and coordinates tenant fit-up. “Then I hand things off to Mike Tomkowicz when all that’s completed,” he says with a grin.

Tomkowicz is not only the treasurer, but also the director of real estate operations. He supervises the property managers and the accounting staff. “A big part of what he does is keeping our tenants happy,” says Bouchard.

“My responsibilities,” says Tomkowicz, “cover the general administration of the company — the office management — and also managing the accounting function as well as property management. On a given day, I could hit one or two or three of those areas, sometimes simultaneously. We always have a project to work on and try to take the company forward.”

“I am not an early riser,” Bouchard confesses, “but I get in the office usually about 7:30 or quarter of 8. The majority of my day is spent on permits. I would say that takes up close to 70 percent of my time. Then again, I oversee all of the design.”

Right now, he continues, about 90 percent of his attention is aimed at Mountain View Office Park on Tilley Drive in South Burlington. “We are in the midst of working on our fifth building in that subdivision right now. We just completed a building for Maitri Health Care; the principal there is Dr. Julia Brock. It’s a beautiful little one-story, 10,000-square-foot medical office building.” Maitri Health Care’s building is one of the company’s rare turnkey projects, he says. “We usually like to hold onto the properties, but in today’s market, you’ve got to be flexible.” 

There’s room for five more buildings at Mountain View, he says, and full build-out will be a total of 370,000 square feet. Two of the buildings are awaiting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Mountain View Office Park on Tilley Drive in South Burlington is the company’s most recent project. Property managers Bill Heinz (left) and Chris Brown are pictured near one of the park’s buildings.

The company’s 2-plus million square feet of owned and operated space includes some 48 properties with more than 200 tenants in Vermont, Maine, New York, and North Carolina. It’s pretty evenly split between the North Carolina and South Burlington offices.

The North Carolina office has an interesting history. Back in the mid-1970s to the early ’80s, Pizzagalli was doing a lot of work for IBM, especially in Essex and the Burlington area, but also in Duchess County, N.Y., Bouchard says. “We took a chance and decided to try and follow IBM down to Charlotte, N.C. Our senior vice president, Fred Johnston — he’s still with us — headed up our regional office down in Charlotte.

“We’ve done a lot of work down in North Carolina — we have just over 20 properties between Charlotte and Raleigh and close to a million square feet of owned and operated space — but we never did one single thing for IBM.” He laughs. “Pat Gavin, our development manager down there, is in charge of a lot of the same things that I am here.”

Here, though, says Bouchard, he faces a challenge that’s not so prevalent in North Carolina: permitting. “The permitting in the state of Vermont has changed drastically over the last 25 years. I think we have an excellent relationship — certainly here up north — with a lot of the municipalities we work in and the state permitting coordinators, but it’s a long process. On average, I would say any of our commercial projects here in Vermont would take about six months to permit before we can begin construction. Not only is the permitting process very lengthy, but it is also very expensive,” he says.

Growth has been steady over the years, although, says Bouchard, “When people ask, ‘How busy are you right now?’ I like to joke and say, ‘We’ve been out straight since 1993.’ In the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was very, very slow.

“Then, especially in 1995, we were awarded a contract with the federal government in St. Albans for a 50,000-square-foot facility for the Vermont Service Center — the General Services Administration — and that promptly grew to 130,000 square feet in 1998, so that really was a jump-start to a lot of the development here up north. So it went from the big IBM push to the push with the federal government, and now, with Tilley Drive, a push with a lot of our medical office users, and especially Fletcher Allen Health Care out there.”

“It’s a great little company,” says Pizzagalli. It’s a wonderful group of people and a nice little business that functions effectively and delivers a nice product to our tenants.”

That appears to be at least one part of the legacy the brothers have created.

Earlier this year, the employee-owners of Pizzagalli Construction Co. expressed it well in the plaque at the base of a flagpole they erected in front of one of the company’s headquarters buildings on Joy Drive in South Burlington. The plaque at its base reads: “Presented to Angelo, Remo and Jim Pizzagalli by the employee owners of Pizzagalli Construction Company, in recognition of our 50th anniversary. Your founding principles have stood the test of time and are the cornerstone of our future.”•