Expansion through Experience

Carnegie Builders Group
Written by David Caldwell

Carnegie Builders Group, LLC brings a hands-on style and extensive experience to both the New York and Miami real estate markets, splitting its resources between the two cities. The company continues to build on its established track record of commercial and residential development in New York, while solely focusing on high-end, multi-family residential projects in Miami, where partners Charles Ventimiglia and Norman Rijo see the best opportunities.
Carnegie Builders Group, LLC was incorporated in 2016. One year earlier, New York-area developers Charles Ventimiglia and Norman Rijo owned separate development firms, with decades of experience and well-developed networks of subcontractors and vendors to match.

Partner Norman Rijo’s personal experience spans several decades, including decades of experience working with major construction firms, such as Turner Construction and GMOKnightsbridge, a Gene McGovern Organization, founder of construction giant Lehrer McGovern Bovis. Thanks to this extensive work history, he was able to start his own construction company. The pedigree of Rijo’s partner, Charles Ventimiglia, is equally comprehensive, with thirty years’ construction experience.

It is extremely tempting to rest on one’s laurels when reaching a point where innovation, learning, and change are no longer seem necessary. However, the savvy business professional realizes the value of innovation, and that change – even radical change – is occasionally required to seize new opportunities.

So even though New York remained a strong market, Miami, Florida presented lucrative new development opportunities. But breaking into this new market presented a challenge not possible for merely one company. So, after consulting in the area for a year, Ventimiglia and Rijo merged their companies to form the Carnegie Builders Group, ensuring a unified approach to the challenges of the Miami real estate market.

Each project of the new group continues its founders’ legacy of quality design and construction. Carnegie takes pride in providing full-service building, managing every aspect of the development and construction process. This way, it can field a wide range of projects from residential complexes, such as the 170,000-square-foot Williamsburg Terrace in Brooklyn, to commercial space for businesses like the IRS Corporate offices, and Tavern On The Green, a landmark restaurant.

In addition to new construction, the company renovates existing structures in the New York area. Here, its founders can use their industry experience to identify potential projects in up-and-coming areas. These are developments that, while a short-term cost, will lead to long-term gains as the area develops.

“We try to focus on what can be,” Rijo explains. “There is vision in what’s involved, in seeing something that you wouldn’t particularly think is going to be there eventually.”

Rijo believes Carnegie’s advantage comes from a “New York way of building,” as he describes it. “We’re aggressive, and we took that philosophy down to Florida, which has given us a little bit of an edge, whereas – not to discount what our competition does down there – we don’t wait for answers, and all team members are held accountable for their specific responsibilities.”

The company shoulders the burden of managing all aspects of construction, including design, subcontracting, and building. Rijo understands that communication, or lack thereof, is the largest issue in being successful. In this regard, Carnegie meets that challenge head-on.

“We make sure everybody is on point with what it is that their responsibilities are in the field, so their tasks are managed and carried out effectively,” he says, elaborating that the company’s close communication with designers and subcontractors gives it an advantage. “Basically, a hands-on philosophy is what sets us apart.”

Carnegie maintains a strong stable of subcontractors to execute the construction process, partnering with them on all projects as necessary for successful completion. But the majority of Carnegie’s staff members boast strong construction and administrative backgrounds, making them more than capable of executing their specific projects.

In the past, Carnegie developed several computer templates for designing and constructing projects. The group has recently switched to Procore, a cloud-based software capable of managing larger projects and sharing files. As the company works remotely with subcontracted engineers and architects, this file-sharing technology greatly boosts productivity. The software is even more useful now, with its projects in New York and Miami separated by considerable distances. “We feel that it’s a great tool to advance the project and its success,” Rijo says proudly.

Yet, even with the closest communication, some variables cannot be controlled. Material costs, including essential resources such as copper, concrete, and lumber are all subject to market fluctuations. “For the most part, we’re at the mercy of what the market is trending as far as material costs,” Rijo notes. While unable to predict the future, Carnegie does its best to stay informed of changing conditions and maintains stockpiles as necessary.

Rijo and Ventimiglia realize there are always things to learn, even with combined fifty-plus years in business. “We always learn something new every day in this business,” Rijo says frankly, “and even after twenty-five years of doing this, there are things that I am welcome to understanding at a different level, as is my partner.” Through Carnegie’s hands-on philosophy, he says the company can do its best to anticipate potential risks during the building process. “We always try to keep our eyes open for what the unknowns are.”

This has served the group well in recent years, as it has begun its expansion into the Miami area. Rijo elaborates how moving into the Florida market has led to challenges predictable in such a situation. “We’ve been having some growing pains,” he admits candidly. Although Carnegie has built a strong network of reliable subcontractors and vendors in the New York area, it is a different story in Miami. After decades of patiently building relationships, Rijo and Ventimiglia are now beginning again. “It takes time,” Rijo says.

Given Florida’s nature as an open shop and right-to-work state, Rijo says Carnegie has had difficulty finding the experienced vendors and subcontractors capable of working at the high standards to which it is accustomed. “On larger projects, it is more difficult to get solid, well-established professional subcontractors,” Rijo says. However, he also states the company does have a strong group of subcontractors to help its construction efforts. “Our vendor base can always be expanded on,” he explains, “however we do have a solid corral of subcontractors.”

The group is developing conservatively into Miami, focusing solely on high-end residential development. Its efforts in the region have met with success, with several developments in the Miami suburb of Bay Harbor Island. The group has consulted on three projects in the area, including two residential buildings and one hotel and constructed a fourteen-unit building.

The company has recently broken ground on a new eight-story condominium designed by popular area architect Frankel Benayoun Architects. “Carnegie is making a name for itself in South Florida,” Rijo says.

Far from trumpeting its success, Carnegie enjoys its position of “flying below the radar,” as Rijo says. He says most of the company’s clients are repeat customers, and this lack of publicity allows it to be discerning and strategic in its projects. “We negotiate most of our work. We pick and choose what we want to build and like to build. We don’t discriminate, but at this point in our careers, my partner and I have decided to keep us focused on good solid projects and developments that we know are funded and that we can build successfully.”

With this new expansion into Miami, Carnegie has its work cut out for it. Both Rijo and Ventimiglia know that, despite their combined expertise, they need to establish clear networks for successful day-to-day operations. “My partner and I, as hands-on as we are, we cannot clone ourselves,” Rijo jokes.

Both men now find themselves shuttling back and forth between the two cities, a necessity that they hope to end soon. “We do need to develop certain individuals who start to take more of an executive role when we can’t be in certain areas.” In the long term, Carnegie must always be alert for projects both in New York and Miami. “We always have to keep looking for the next project,” Rijo says, adding, “you’re always going to have to be on the hunt for great projects.”

Carnegie’s future looks bright. As it adapts to the different environment of Miami, it will continue to expand its portfolio and engage new clients. It will undoubtedly serve the New York and Miami areas for decades to come.



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