McDermott Ventures played a major role in some of the most prominent real estate developments in Boston, but its founder and CEO, Pamela G. McDermott, still has trouble describing exactly what the 17-year-old firm does.
It does public relations, but it isn’t a public relations firm. It helps large-scale real estate developments find financing, but it isn’t a financial broker. And it’s helped manage projects during the permitting phase, but it isn’t a project management company.
“I’m a real estate development consultant,” McDermott said. “We provide a variety of different services and expertise to clients and it doesn’t fall neatly into one description or another … It’s a little of everything.”
What the three-person company does do is help turn redevelopment dreams into reality. If that means building consensus among neighbors and stakeholders in a project, or helping to manage the permitting process, or identifying financial resources, then that’s what they do.
Ken Narva, cofounder and managing partner of Street-Works LLC, said he hired McDermott about six years ago because she and her firm gave credibility to plans for the massive $1.6 billion redevelopment of Quincy Center, which broke ground in June. That unique and controversial project is rebuilding 50 acres, including 20 square blocks, and includes the demolition of several old buildings.
“She’s as real as Quincy is real. We needed someone who has as much believability as we wanted this project to have,” Narva said. He pointed out that Street-Works, the master developer for the Quincy project, is a New York firm and they needed someone who was politically savvy in Massachusetts, who would be able to build consensus locally.
“She’s built a career based on her integrity and doing the right thing, and that was very valuable to us,” Narva said. “She doesn’t have a big firm, but she has a very influential firm.”
McDermott also worked on the redevelopment of Fan Pier, the stretch of waterfront land in Boston from the Moakley Federal Court House to the Institute of Contemporary Art.
“We pride ourselves in getting involved in complex urban projects,” McDermott said.
It doesn’t get much more complicated than the Fan Pier Project, with its history of failed attempts for redevelopment over several decades.
“I won’t pretend to know how many times this project attempted to get built,” McDermott said. She got involved in the project around 1989, when the Pritzker family of Chicago took ownership. Although the Pritzker family ended up selling the land, McDermott worked on the team that got the necessary permits to build what’s there today, and what’s still being built there, including high-rise condominiums, offices, and the public park next door to the ICA.
McDermott Ventures is the fourth company McDermott has started. She said she’s a “serial entrepreneur,” and doesn’t do it so much for the rush of adrenaline that comes along with starting a new business as for the freedom that comes with it.
“You can develop your own ideas and innovation and then execute them without worrying about some hierarchy of approvals and signoffs,” she said.
Another business she helped start was A2aMedia, Inc., a Boston firm that sells high-tech mesh screens that can wrap around buildings so that digital media, such as video, can be displayed. The product is wrapped around the American Airlines Arena where the Miami Heat play, as well as several locations in Times Square.
McDermott said she was one of four people who came up with the idea for the company, but decided to become a minority investor early on when she realized she could not devote herself to it full time.
McDermott is modest about her accomplishments, emphasizing that it’s been teams of people working on all of these redevelopment projects that made them a success.
“Nothing could be done without a group of individuals all pulling the rope in the same direction,” she said. “Every one of these major projects needs architects, attorneys, community input, government support, elected officials, government decision makers, and community activists. And projects happen because all of these various groups and team members work together to develop consensus.”