J.T. Magen & Co. is not overeager for publicity or business. The New York City-based general contractor doesn’t actively court the media. And it chooses projects using criteria beyond “the volume of money” to be had, founder and CEO Maurice Regan says. But in its 26 years, Regan has led the firm to become one of the city’s most prominent for prewar building conversions and renovations, with impressive revenue growth to match.
The contractor’s 2017 revenue totaled $787.5 million in New York and New Jersey, a 21% rise over 2016’s $652.1 million. Its Empire State revenue rose 28% to $776.3 million from $607.9 million. J.T. Magen’s largest regional project that broke ground in 2017 is the 50-floor 1 Wall St., a $775-million prewar conversion that will total 1 million sq ft with 566 condominiums plus retail space and leisure facilities.
This is the first year J.T. Magen has participated in ENR New York’s Top Contractors survey, and it was ranked No. 9. among the region’s largest builders. On ENR’s national Top 400 Contractors list released in May, the company debuted at No. 84, with total U.S. revenue of $998.9 million. Now, the firm is ENR New York’s Contractor of the Year.
When asked during a chat at his company’s headquarters whether he was surprised to be selected for the recognition, Regan responded: “Yes and no. We know the feedback clients give us, the quality of service we provide. But we never really asked for it! We just answered the questions.”
He says his company has grown from word of mouth and repeat clients who also hire the firm for projects outside New York and New Jersey, prompting it to open offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, with staff totaling 400.
Regan is originally from a small village in County Kerry, Ireland. He is also an enthusiastic racehorse breeder—a picture of thoroughbred Miss Polaris with her new foal is tacked close to the computer monitor in his modest office, which is dominated by a giant fish tank given to him by his staff some years ago.
Being from the Emerald Isle gives him another advantage: He’s a U.K. chartered quantity surveyor, educated in valuing property, assessing structural defects in buildings and accurately estimating budgets early on to renovate a space, erect a structure from scratch, create or improve infrastructure and provide other construction project services. Regan and many on his staff are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—and that’s actually an important point.
The MRICS acronym after those employees’ names means J.T. Magen is particularly qualified to renovate NYC buildings that are 120 or more years old. “You know what to look for. You can budget it, plan for it,” Regan says, and that means a client is much less likely to get a nasty budget or time-extending surprise later in the development process.
“A lot of prewar buildings have brick facades, punch-through windows and steel beams (supporting floors),” he adds. “You need to think about maximizing ceiling heights, lining the building to correct moisture, and a lot of buildings have asbestos or lead paint,” which demand hazardous material removal services. Such projects also require new infrastructure, vertical transportation and updated facilities like high-tech conference rooms, according to Sean Murray, J.T. Magen’s executive vice president.
At 1 Wall St., J.T. Magen took over in May 2017 for Gilbane Building Co. as general contractor. (Owner Macklowe Properties did not respond to a request for comment about the switch.) Tasks include structural demolition of interiors and exterior cladding systems; installing all-new building MEPS infrastructure, including sprinklers; and adding a seven-story structure to the annex tower, which requires reinforcement of the existing structure.
It’s perhaps telling that one person from a client company referred to J.T. Magen, off the record, as “my No. 1 favorite general contractor of all time.” When speaking on the record, several praised the firm’s ability to rein in costs and tackle a variety of construction challenges, whether during a first-time project or over many.
“J.T. Magen has … worked with us on more than a dozen projects in excess of $100 million,” says Edward V. Piccinich, chief operating officer at developer SL Green. “Their ability to execute complex projects—including building a new core and shell retail building at 29 W. 34th St. and the comprehensive redevelopment of 180 Maiden Lane—is unmatched.”
One of those projects included a new headquarters in Worldwide Plaza at 825 Eighth Ave. for the strategic communications firm Rubenstein, which also worked closely with J.T. Magen.
The firm “treated our budget as if it was their own (and) did a great job finding cost-effective ways of addressing field conditions and other unforeseen challenges,” says Steven Rubenstein, president, whose firm moved to the far West Side after 40 years in a prior location. “J.T. Magen did a great job finding cost-effective ways of addressing field conditions and other unforeseen challenges and … was unfazed by any last-minute changes and circumstances, and brought the project in on time.”
Satellite radio giant iHeartMedia Inc. chose J.T. Magen for the buildout of its headquarters at 125 W. 55th St. “It was a 75,000-sq-ft gut renovation, from studs to completion, including several specialty features” like broadcast studios, a 20-ft digital billboard and a suspended articulating robot, says Molly Winkler, vice president of real estate operations.
“J.T. Magen’s strength lies in its skilled professionals and trade relationships,” Winkler adds. “On more than one occasion, the site superintendent and subs made critical decisions in partnership with our design advisers and architectural team, and the aesthetic integrity of the design vision remained uncompromised even through unique challenges.” As a result, iHeartMedia’s open office was named 2015’s Best Media/Tech Large Office by Interior Design magazine.
Accolades continued in 2017. J.T. Magen earned recognition for best interior architecture from ArchDaily for Nike’s East Coast headquarters in Manhattan, a 147,000-sq-ft workspace with 32-ft slab heights, an indoor regulation basketball court, a sixth-floor terrace with plants arranged into the Nike “swoosh” logo and two food trucks. The firm’s work on Adidas’ Fifth Avenue flagship shop resulted in RetailWeek naming it best international store.
Current projects include mission critical data center facilities in Chicago, Miami, Denver and Secaucus, N.J., for clients who declined to be identified; and the Nordstrom’s flagship store in Manhattan, with its already famous glass waveform facade.
J.T. Magen is encountering more corporate clients that want to refit offices in older buildings as former tenants move into new towers such as Hudson Yards on the West Side and One Vanderbilt near Grand Central Station. In addition, major law firms like Kirland & Ellis want to stay in place, strengthening the market for restacking. Clients also seek more open spaces, fewer individual offices, massive “living walls that are like forests” and amenities like gyms and medical centers—“things to keep people happy,” Regan says.
The firm’s diversity of work is clear from its market sector breakout. Regional revenue is generated from multi-unit residential ($73.7 million), retail ($38.8 million), interior/tenant improvements ($662.1 million) and telecommunications ($12.9 million).
“If I’m not diversifying, I’ll have to let people go,” Regan says, adding that companies focused on one or two sectors will have a burst of hiring when they’re hot, then a burst of layoffs when they’re not. “That’s never happened at J.T. Magen.” And employees don’t voluntarily leave that often, according to the CEO.
“Our retention is four to five times more than other firms,” he says. “There’s no bureaucracy, people are well compensated for working hard, everyone knows what’s going on in the company [and all] share in the success. It’s really a family effort.”
But the firm’s not immune to one problem that plagues the industry: a shortage of skilled labor. According to Regan, subcontractors are “at capacity” because there’s so much construction in the city.
Because demand is much greater than supply, vendors are raising their prices and being more selective about construction firms they’ll work with. In turn, general contractors are being more discriminating about projects they’ll take on. Ultimately, that means increasing costs for higher-risk projects or those with longer development times, Regan says.
One subcontractor, though, has a special relationship with J.T. Magen. Forest Electric New York, an EMCOR subsidiary, has partnered with Regan’s company since 1997, when the two worked on a financial services project, says Robert Richardson, president of the firm.
“It might sound old-fashioned to say, but [my firm] appreciates working with people and organizations that are trustworthy, provide the needed information, have a compatible culture of understanding and integrity, and are good listeners,” Richardson says.