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Updated: March 23, 2020 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders: Roccy Risbara builds business — and a new community — in Scarborough

Roccy Risbara at Scarborough Downs File photo / Tim Greenway Roccy Risbara was honored as a Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year in 2020.

Roccy Risbara has been in construction his whole life, helping his dad with projects for the family business and even driving a bulldozer at age 10.

“I really cannot imagine what else I’d be doing, it was just never anything I’d thought about,” says Risbara, partner and president of Risbara Bros. Construction Co. in Scarborough. The company, owned by Risbara and younger brothers Bill and Marc since 1990, has roots going back to 1968, when their parents, Marcia and Rocco Risbara II, founded the business.

“They were just a couple of young kids,” says Risbara. “They had a quest for a better life and wanted to try to control their destiny as best they could. My brothers and I literally grew up in the business.”

They’ve been working together ever since, running the construction company that’s grown to 47 employees, and a handful of related co-owned ventures, including the developer of The Downs mixed-use community in Scarborough. Besides construction, they do remodeling, repairs and property management — overseeing a combined 138 employees and still a model of teamwork.

“The fact that we all actually work is a piece of it,” says Risbara. “That’s something my brothers and I learned at a pretty young age. Bill, Marc and I recognized that if you act like the boss’s son, you get no respect. You have to go out there and do more than your share. That’s the way we’ve always operated. We work hard, but we also have a lot of fun.”

Risbara Bros. Construction, which has built thousands of homes and apartments in the greater Portland area, does commercial, residential and earthwork construction. In the past decade and a half, it’s also built around 40 bank and credit union branches. Clients include the Scarborough-based Town & Country Federal Credit Union, a 40,000-member entity for which it’s done new builds and remodeled leased branches.

“They’re very knowledgeable, very responsive and very good at interpreting the needs of the client. They can speed up and slow down at a moment’s notice,” says Town & Country President and CEO David Libby, who reconnected with the Risbaras years after going to high school with Bill. From a business perspective, Libby says he values the family’s commitment to quality and long-term relationships with all their clients as “unique in today’s world.”

Reshaping Scarborough

For the Risbaras, their biggest undertaking to date is a work in progress that’s put them on the map as major developers, The Downs in Scarborough.

“My ability to fly under the radar is gone,” admits Risbara.

For the project, the Risbaras teamed up with long-time business partners Peter and Richard Michaud — another set of brothers — to form Crossroads Holdings LLC in 2017. They paid $6.7 million for 525 long-empty acres they aim to turn into a so-called live-work-play community expected to deliver $1 billion in economic value over a 30-year horizon.

While all five are equal partners, each has a distinct role, with Roccy Risbara at the helm and the project’s public face.

“Together we’re a heck of a team,” he says, likening The Downs to a puzzle that’s beginning to fall into place. “We’ve got activity on both ends of the site, and now we’re working on the middle. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle, but it’s really starting to come together.”

The pace is much faster than expected, with dozens of apartments, condos and homes already built, industrial lots under construction and WEX Inc. signed on for a planned $50 million operations center near the Scarborough Downs harness-racing track and grandstand. The site will also include a town center and 10 miles of new trails — creating a new anchor, and economic engine, for the 20,000-population town. As the general contractor for The Downs, Risbara Bros. Construction will play a key role.

“This piece of Scarborough is going to be the profit center for the town,” Risbara says, “and it’s going to more than carry its weight in terms of revenue versus demand for service. The town is going to grow, so we’re going to build it out in a manner that’s sustainable for the town.”

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall is confident of that happening, given that Risbara “is a man of his word. If he says he’s going to do or not do something, you can believe it. I’ve always appreciated that, and respect him highly.” Hall also notes that the next 24 months are critical to the project’s success, saying, “Good thoughtful planning now is going to pay dividends down the road.”

Kevin Bunker, founding principal of Developers Collaborative, expressed similar admiration for the Risbaras, with whom he co-owns about 140 apartment units and has done two successful projects. They’re currently working on a third, 38 units of affordable housing for seniors. Bunker expects to break ground this summer.

On a more personal note, Bunker says it’s always fun to engage with the Risbaras, saying, “Whenever I get a phone call and see it’s from Roccy, I think, ‘This is going to be cool, I wonder what he’ll think of next.”

Family legacy

For the Risbaras, part of keeping their parents’ legacy alive is through the nonprofit Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation, which awarded $50,000 last year in trade school scholarships to 44 young people, says Shawn Moody of Moody’s Collision Centers, who started the foundation in 2014 and later expanded it thanks to the Risbaras.

“The Risbaras made a very generous contribution to help us take the effort statewide,” he says, equally appreciative of Roccy and daughter Maria Risbara’s board participation.

Maria, who also serves as rental division manager for Maine Properties, says she’s proud to work for a successful business and of the work her dad and uncles are doing at The Downs.

“They care more about Scarborough than anyone. They’ve lived here their whole lives,” she says. “It truly will be their legacy.”

Asked what he enjoys most about what he does, her father says, “Creating something is a big part of it. To take a raw piece of land, to look at something and figure out what’s the best use, and figure out how we could do that in a way we want, and we can be proud of.” As for The Downs, “We’ve all touched that project in different ways. When it’s all said and done, we can all be proud of it.”

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