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Builders of Color Coalition leader sees diversity in Boston’s development sector reaching an important inflection point

John Nucci approved for another term on Massport board; Newton-Needham chamber launches tourism campaign; UniBank gives back to Central Mass.; No, GE’s not moving back to CT.

Colleen Fonseca, executive director of Builders of Color Coalition.Chris Morris

It’s shaping up to be a busy month for the Builders of Color Coalition and, in particular, for the woman running the show.

For Colleen Fonseca, the coalition’s first executive director, this moment marks a tipping point for Boston’s clubby development industry, in which a critical mass of people of color are finally making inroads.

The coalition cohosted an “Ownership Opportunities Forum” on June 8 at the UMass Club to explain how to invest in real estate development projects. The audience was a mix of people of color, and reps from some of the busiest development and construction firms in the city, including Leggat McCall Properties, Redgate, Shawmut, Tishman Speyer, Rise Construction Management, National Development, and Oxford Properties. Those firms were among the many event sponsors.


Next up: a Minority Developer Closing Reception, for the group’s first cohort of development fellows. This event on Friday will wrap up sessions that began in January in which participants from about a dozen firms learned the finer points of development, from financing to zoning to project management. These classes were funded by the Boston Planning & Development Agency and The Boston Foundation.

These are educational events, for sure. But the networking opportunities might be even more important.

“In the development and real estate investment space, a lot of what you learn is not from education or any textbook or training,” Fonseca said. “It’s really from people who have been in the industry sharing their expertise. . . There is not that institutional knowledge [about the industry] that exists for communities of color.”

The coalition was launched in 2017, essentially in founder Dave Madan’s living room. Interest grew significantly, and by this time last year, it became clear the coalition needed its own staff. Fonseca, who previously held roles with the Suffolk County sheriff’s office and the city of Providence, was hired by the coalition as a consultant before joining on a full-time basis in January.


Fonseca said the barriers to entry are finally falling thanks to public sector policies that encourage diverse bidding teams, and private sector deals that are starting to do the same. She’s happy to play a small but key role in it all.

“There haven’t just been significant conversations around this problem but actual action,” Fonseca said. “This is an industry where folks of color have been intentionally left out. That doesn’t have to be the case anymore.”

Eastie leader is reappointed to Massport

If you’ve got a beef with Logan Airport, you might want to take it up with John Nucci.

Last Thursday, the Massport Community Advisory Committee voted unanimously to reappoint Nucci to the Massport board of directors, as the community representative. Nucci, an East Boston resident and senior vice president at Suffolk University, is expected to begin a new, seven-year term in July.

Nucci said he’s particularly proud of working on the “Massport Model” of making diversity a key criterion when picking developers for public properties, and of prodding Massport to build more affordable housing on its surplus land. He said he’s also advocating for more Logan Express bus stops in the suburbs, to reduce the car traffic in and around Logan. He anticipated plenty of noise complaints when he started this gig, but he’s been surprised by how often traffic congestion near the airport gets mentioned to him — maybe more often than jet noise.


Aaron Toffler, the committee’s executive director, said Nucci was “the obvious choice,” based in part on his efforts to improve transparency and diversity at Massport. Toffler added: “He has been able to bridge the gap between the community and the authority in a really positive way.”

Nucci was first voted into the role by the committee in early 2016, and is the only person to hold the post. The committee and its Massport board seat were created by an act of the Legislature a few years earlier.

It’s a position that Nucci was born to fill, in a way. He grew up in the shadow of the airport, on Bayswater Street, with jets zooming by constantly.

“I could literally see the faces in the windows [of the planes],” Nucci said. “We could read the pilots’ name tags.”

Cruise on up the Charles

Ready for a road trip . . . to Wellesley?

The Charles River Regional Chamber just launched a marketing campaign aimed at drawing Bostonians to “Take a Trip Up the Charles” to Newton, Needham, Watertown, and Wellesley. The $35,000 state-subsidized campaign includes postcards, online ads, and a series of videos by Last Minute Productions to highlight attractions in the area, such as Volante Farms or Arsenal Yards.

Chamber president Greg Reibman got the idea last summer when he visited downtown Concord with his wife, and it was swarming with people. The chamber doesn’t typically market to consumers, but that Concord trip got Reibman thinking.


“I realized maybe we were neglecting something about our communities,” Reibman said. “We don’t have the Old North Bridge but we have lots of things in our communities that could make a good day trip.”

Small bank, big donation

UniBank was preparing to celebrate a milestone birthday in 2020 – 150 years, going strong — when the pandemic hit. Time to put away the balloons, and to start writing PPP loans.

The Whitinsville bank, the largest based in Central Massachusetts, finally held its party on June 11, appropriately labeled as a “150th+2 celebration.” About 300 people gathered under a tent in the village for the occasion, and chief executive Michael Welch gave a speech about the mutual bank’s mission to serve the local communities. Toward that end, Welch announced UniBank would donate $5 million over five years to its charitable foundation, essentially tripling the foundation’s size.

That’s a hefty gift for a 13-branch bank. One incredulous onlooker, a friend of Welch’s, turned to him at the party in surprise after hearing about the pledge.

“Someone said to me, ‘Mike, banks don’t do that, banks don’t just give money away at this magnitude,’” Welch said. “My response was, ‘Well, this one does.’”

Will the real GE please stand up?

You can’t blame us if we’re a bit jittery about headquarters relocations after Raytheon Technologies decided to hightail it out of here for the D.C. area. (Raytheon, you may remember, had picked Waltham over Connecticut for its headquarters as part of its 2020 merger between the old Raytheon Co. and United Technologies Corp., led by chief executive Greg Hayes.)


So what’s this about GE moving back to Connecticut? Governor Ned Lamont, or someone on his social media team, took to Twitter on Thursday to brag that 28 major employers in 2021 expanded their footprints in Connecticut, or moved their headquarters there, “like GE, who left and are now back.” Lamont cited “lower taxes than many of our neighbors,” safe communities, schools, and the skilled workforce as reasons.

Wait, what? GE moved to Boston in 2016 from Fairfield, under the direction of then-chief executive Jeff Immelt. Sure, things haven’t quite worked out as planned. But GE still occupies its brick headquarters overlooking the Fort Point Channel.

Turns out, Lamont (and/or his social media folks) was talking about GE Appliances, a division of Chinese manufacturer Haier, which announced last year it would open a “microfactory” in Stamford, creating about two dozen jobs. Not the headquarters by any stretch, but a victory nonetheless.

So what prompted the tweet? It’s probably no coincidence that Lego had just announced it would open a massive new manufacturing plant in the United States. Guess where? Not Connecticut, home to its US headquarters in Enfield. Lego manufactured tiny bricks there once, too, but the privately held Danish toy company shipped that work to Mexico 16 years ago. Lego chose Virginia this time around citing — what else? — its skilled workforce.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.