More Than Checking a Box

Omni Hotel is New Model for Diversity in Development

By Steve Adams | Banker & Tradesman Staff | Mar 25, 2018
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Greg Janey started his construction company in 1990 out of a Dorchester storefront, and completed one of his first notable projects building a 20,000-square-foot office for the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts in Dudley Square.

“Before that, it was just the standard build a deck, renovate a kitchen, do what you need to do to get going,” said Janey, founder and CEO of Boston-based Janey Construction Management and Consulting.

Now Janey’s firm will play a major role at the largest building project set to break ground in Boston this spring: a $550 million Omni hotel that’s positioned as the go-to lodging destination for visitors to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Janey is teaming up with one of the region’s largest construction managers, Winchester-based John Moriarty & Assoc., in a 70-30 partnership that could rewrite the rules of how minority-owned firms compete on big-ticket development projects. Janey described the Moriarty partnership as a “true collaborative effort” in which Janey employees will participate on all levels.

“We’ll make sure our joint venture includes monetary contributions at the beginning so we have stake in the game. That allows us to have people on decision-making levels, not just being directed all over the place,” he said. “Moriarty is willing to create a meaningful partnership to help a firm like Janey grow and eventually become one of his competitors. In the past, we’ve turned down projects that didn’t have those key elements.”

Both companies will hire their own superintendents and project engineers, but Moriarty said the overall project manager will be part of his firm.

“The idea is to make it as close to vertically integrated as possible,” he said. “The task is to have (Janey) develop people in those roles so he can get larger jobs on his own. The first couple of young guys he’s sent us have been terrific. We’d love to be in a situation that’s 50-50 or 70-30 the other way.”

 ‘We’ve Shown That It Can Be Done’

When Massport requested proposals from hotel developers for its 2.1-acre site at 440 Summer St., the port authority’s directors made diversity and inclusion count for 25 percent of the evaluation criteria.

“This all came about because somebody said, ‘Let’s not just set a minimum standard. Let’s see how hard and high people are willing to go with this,’” Moriarty said.

The Davis Cos. of Boston assembled the eventual winning team. Developer Richard Taylor and Howard Elkus, the late co-founder of Elkus Manfredi Architects, approached developer Jonathan Davis in 2014 with ideas for a team that included minority participation in all stages from design and engineering to hotel operations.

Elkus Manfredi had partnered with Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest African-American-owned architect firm, on projects outside New England. Joining the Omni development team prompted Moody Nolan to open its first New England office at Boston’s International Place.

“We have long been looking to move and have a presence in the Northeast,” said Brian Tibbs, partner-in-charge of the Boston office. “That was what gave us the confirmation that this was the right thing to do.”

Davis Cos. CEO Jonathan Davis, a developer with 42 years of experience, saw an opportunity to bring more diversity to Boston’s development industry and create a long-lasting model for inclusive projects.

“There’s racism involved, but historically these firms have not had the capacity to participate in large-scale projects,” Davis said. “Attitude is easy to change, but it’s more about the resources being out there. The marketplace will take it from there.”

Whether or not additional agencies and municipalities set similarly high diversity goals, Janey predicted his firm will be positioned to compete for larger jobs in the future.

“Oftentimes general contractors partner just for the sake of having a black contractor involved to check the box, and when you complete that experience and try to apply to towards another project, it doesn’t work,” Janey said. “At Janey we make sure our joint ventures all offer transferable experience.”

Minority-owned firms comprise 31 percent of the design phase. Lead architect Elkus Manfredi is partnering with Roxbury-based Stull & Lee, which is designing public realm improvements including interiors of an existing tunnel beneath Summer Street connecting the hotel with the convention center. Columbus, Ohio-based Moody Nolan designed the Omni’s meeting rooms and event spaces, including the city’s largest hotel ballroom.

“We’ve worked with Massport to create a model that’s getting a tremendous amount of attention at the state and local level,” Davis said. “You’re going to see more projects with these requirements because we’ve shown that it can be done.”

Massport did not respond to a Jan. 15 request from Banker & Tradesman for a copy of the hotel development agreement. The publication reopened an appeal with the Secretary of State’s public records division after Massport failed to provide a response on March 6, as the division had indicated to the agency. Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan did not respond to inquiries about when the document would be provided.