MBTW firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.toronto_star 2005-12-10 published
Marco MUZZO was visionary in industry
Legendary developer enjoyed 50-year career
'His word was as good as his signature'
By Pat BRENNAN, Special To The Star, Page N2
It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday and the steady rain was into its third day.
Standing at the bottom of a deep excavation of what used to be Greenwood Race Track, Marco MUZZO was covered in mud. He was trying to find a way to get loaded dump trucks up the steep, dirt ramp that has become a river of mud.
He employed 3,500 people, was one of Canada's biggest land developers and richest citizens, but the man was fully in his element solving problems in the bottom of a mud hole.
MUZZO built many thousands of homes in southern Ontario, as well as thousands of acres of industrial and commercial buildings and it's unlikely there is a stick of lumber or a panel of drywall installed in any of those structures that didn't have its purchase order come across his desk.
And despite this kind of hands-on attention to the most ordinary of details, Marco MUZZO was considered one of this country's most visionary builders. He died earlier this week at his home after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 73.
The mud hole at Greenwood Race Track at Queen St. E. and Woodbine Ave. became The Beach Neighbourhood, one of Toronto's most spectacular new home developments.
When MUZZO and Fred DEGASPARIS, a close friend and partner in many of his developments, launched the $200 million housing project in June 1997, it was the largest active urban renewal project in North America.
MUZZO owned a variety of companies in the development and building industry. Despite being one of the largest residential developers in the country, he was virtually unknown by consumers. Neither his name nor image appeared on any of the dozens of his companies he controlled.
"The buyers are the deciding factor and I think smart buyers mostly rely on two things -- location and the bottom line," MUZZO said in a Toronto Star interview in 2000.
Pemberton was his highrise condominium developer. It has erected dozens of large condo projects around the Greater Toronto Area since he launched the firm in the mid-'90s. The company was named after Pemberton Ave., where he erected his first highrise as the sole developer.
He once owned a large chunk of Camrost Developments, a prominent highrise developerheaded by David FELDMAN.
MUZZO operated all his firms from his office at Marel Contractors in Vaughan. Marel was the only company that hinted at his name.
Marel is one of Canada's largest drywall contractors and its name is a blending of Marco and Elio. Elio was his older brother who died in 1997 at age 75.
Elio arrived in Canada from Italy in the early 1950s from the family farm just outside Venice. After getting established in Toronto as a plasterer, he sent for his younger brother.
"When I arrived in Toronto I spent the first three months in Elio's basement building a plaster wall," said MUZZO. " When he came home at night he'd come down and check my work. Then he'd rip it down and say do it again. He wouldn't let me go to work as a plasterer until he felt I was good enough," said MUZZO.
After becoming one of Canada's largest builders, MUZZO would still talk with pride about his talent as a plasterer. He talked about the time in the early '60s when he went to help a family on Christmas morning. Their upstairs bathtub had overflowed and ruined the dining room ceiling below.
"The woman of the house was very upset because she was having her whole family over for Christmas dinner later that day and the ceiling was lying on her dining room table," MUZZO said in an interview.
"I spent much of Christmas day getting that ceiling looking good again. I could smell the food cooking in the kitchen. The ceiling had been finished with an elaborate rosette. She wanted it back and so did I. I did a good job on that ceiling," said MUZZO more than 30 years later.
MUZZO was very close to his brother Elio. Although he was one of Canada's wealthiest men, he drove his brother's old Cadillac. Elio's children wanted their dad to give up the old pickup he drove and bought him a new Cadillac. After two weeks in the Caddy, Elio wanted his old truck back because the Caddy hurt his back. So Marco took his brother's car and drove it long after his brother passed away.
"I had great respect for that man," said Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCALLION. " His word was as good as his signature. He was a tough negotiator -- just like me -- but he was fair and honest. You never had to question whether he would do what he said he would do. Marco was aware of the tiniest details. He knew everything that was happening in his empire, in every corner. Everything he did; he did well, because he had pride in his work. He leaves a great legacy."
MUZZO put together a consortium of builders to buy Mississauga's Erin Mills from Cadillac Fairview and create an award-winning community.
MUZZO had great respect for the working man too, said Ucal POWELL head of Local 27 of the International Carpenters Union and Allied Workers.
"He employed thousands of our members as carpenters and drywallers. He treated them fair. He demanded good work and if you supplied that, you got respect and you got work."
"The last time I saw Marco was on September 20 at what I think was one of his finest development achievements," said Toronto Councillor Kyle RAE. "It was at the opening of the sales office for his Uptown condo at Yonge and Bloor. After all that he has done for the fringes of the city, I was pleased to see him bringing a spectacular-looking condo to the heart of the city -- right where the two subway lines cross. It think it will be another great legacy for the man," said RAE.
"I have never respected any man more," said architect Gary WATCHORN of MBTW, a land planning firm. "He was such a visionary. He could see opportunities everywhere. He set very high standards for everyone associated with his companies, but he was also fair and compassionate."
"His death is the biggest loss to our industry ever," said Desi AUCIELLO, president-elect of the 1,400-member Greater Toronto Home Builders' Association. "He was way ahead of his time. He was a unique individual and an iconic figure. We've all heard it before that he was tough, but fair. He was old school in that his word was his bond."
Home builder and developer Tony GUGLIETTI of Townwood Homes was a close friend.
"He had such great passion for people. This city will never know all the generosity, all the quiet philanthropy he did for people, for charities, for organizations," said GUGLIETTI.
"He was the grandfather of the development industry in this city. He had more influence on development in this city over the past 50 years than anyone I know; but what a lot of people don't know is that he was also a great humanitarian."
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