The Pittsburgh Pirates Have Many Hidden Heroes.
There are the men who play on the field every night, whose jerseys we wear, whose names we chant, whose triumphs we celebrate, whose losses we mourn. They are a special kind of hero – the ones on the baseball cards – they are members of an elite brotherhood just 750 strong who every year captivate our minds and our hearts playing a child’s game on a very grown-up stage. But for the Pittsburgh Pirates and every Major League Baseball team that takes the field each night, there is another team working behind the scenes to make sure every game goes off without a hitch – for the players and the fans. They are the Hidden Heroes of baseball – and these are their stories.
For Ron Allen, Building Projects for the Pirates’ Bradenton Operations is all About Building Relationships
For a guy who has lived in Bradenton, Florida since 1984, Ron Allen can’t seem to shake his ties to Pittsburgh. Not that he’d necessarily want to – after all they ultimately led to his helping his city land a groundbreaking 30-year Spring Training lease agreement with an MLB team, nearly 20 (and counting) projects for his company and a life spent in near paradise.
Allen is the President of NDC Construction Company, a Florida-based development firm. He is the guy who literally built Pirate City and brought the much celebrated bar and boardwalk to LECOM Park . Well, technically speaking, his team oversaw those projects, and many more, that grew from the relationship between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the City of Bradenton.
His story begins, as most good ones do, in the Steel City.
Allen grew up in Erwin, Penn. His father started the Pittsburgh-based National Development Corporation in 1968, a design-build development firm also specializing in construction management and general contracting. Allen worked there during summers and, after graduating from high school, during the day while attending the University of Pittsburgh at night.
“I’m about as Pittsburgh as they come.”
National Development Corporation had a branch office in Bradenton, focusing primarily on condominium construction and at 24, Allen moved to “The Friendly City” to work in that branch. Only, Bradenton back then was nothing like the hub for tourism and development it is today. He described it as a “bedroom kind of community for retirees.” That made the move south tough for a young man in his mid-20’s. Compounding the issue was an economy in turmoil, he recalled. When he got to Florida, the company had four condo projects going, with no buyers. He decided then that he wasn’t going to just be a condo builder anymore.
That was a fortuitous decision.
Speaking the Language
Service to the community is very important to Allen, whose career includes time on more than 20 boards in the area. This desire to give back ultimately led to his connection with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He was the the incoming Chair of the Board of Directors for the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce when the Pirates made it known that they were interested in moving their Spring Training home out of Bradenton. The City approached the Chamber of Commerce, asking for assistance in convincing the Pirates to stay.
“The Chamber Executive Board decided that since I was from Pittsburgh, I was the ‘natural person’ to approach the Pirates and work on it,” Allen recalled. “So we just started working and a year and a half later, we had a 30-year lease.” The massive effort included a team from the City of Bradenton as well as other business leaders in the city.
Part of the deal they struck included a commitment by the city to make major improvements to Pirate City and McKechnie Field, he said. They were much-needed. “If you had seen it back then and today, they almost look like two different places,” Allen added.
A Matter of Trust
Due to his involvement with the Chamber on the lease agreement negotiations, Allen already knew people within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. So when his company bid on, and won, construction projects at the then McKechnie Field and Pirates City complexes per improvements promised, the transition into the role of builder/developer was seamless.
“There have been three ownership groups within the timeframe I’ve worked with the Pirates and it just became a matter that we were close with them and were able, I guess, to do things successfully,” he said.
One of the recipes for success is doing business the Pittsburgh way, he said.
“Very seldom do you meet people from Pittsburgh that have inherited a billion dollars. If they have a billion dollars, it’s because they went out, rolled up their sleeves and made it,” Allen said. “Even though with the Pirates, the last few ownership groups weren’t from Pittsburgh, they’ve all had that mentality. When (Kevin) McClatchy was there, the family had a lot of money, but McClatchy was a roll-up his sleeves, ‘let’s go get it done’ kind of guy. And I think that Frank (Coonelly) and Bob (Nutting) have that same kind of feeling and work attitude. So it’s real easy to work with them from that standpoint.”
A Never-ending Quest for Improvement
To date, NDC has completed about 20 projects that total nearly $100 million, Allen estimated.
These include extensive work at Pirate City, like building the dorms, dining facility and clubhouse. They also built the team’s workout facility, which he calls “the nicest strength and conditioning facility for Spring Training that there is.”
At the newly renamed LECOM Park, NDC Construction Company added the boardwalk, bar and seats in the outfield, installed both in-seat and field lighting and renovated the visitor’s clubhouse and home clubhouse.
The home clubhouse project, he pointed out, was a departure for the Pirates and Bradenton in terms of funding. Given the lease agreement, most work done to Pirate City and LECOM Park comes from money generated through the city and other funding mechanisms. However, there were no funds available for clubhouse renovations, so the Pirates ownership group funded them privately, he said. “Mr. Nutting and his group really stepped up,” he said. “They pretty much did the first private or baseball-infused money into facilities project in Florida. We haven’t seen that in this state before.”
Most recently, NDC added the interactive scoreboard to LECOM Park and installed an “agility hill” training area at Pirate City.
There are projects already in discussion for completion before the next season begins, but Allen wasn’t giving away any hints. He did say that early planning is crucial to the timely and successful completion of all projects for the Pittsburgh Pirates, though.
“One thing about the Pirates, and they will tell you this also, they tend to take a long time in making their decisions and then they want the projects done in a short timeframe,” he said, noting that a project his firm says needs to start in May may not get the go-ahead to get started until September. This pattern has become a running joke between Allen and Pirates brass. “With most of our projects the paint may still be wet the day before Spring Training starts, but they’re always complete,” he laughed.
Future Plans and Pittsburgh Fans
NDC Construction company employs 49 people in its Bradenton office. Two of those employees are Allen’s sons. He has five children, total, and said in many ways, like his father before him, he’s spent his life building the future succession of the company. One son works in the development side and the other works in the financial side of the business. He has another son working for a commercial brokerage company in Sarasota, which is helpful experience to get, Allen added, because NDC doesn’t do that type of work.
His kids grew up fans of Pittsburgh sports teams due to the connection to the city, and he’s excited for the chance this season to bring his eight month-old grandson to his first Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training game. Allen’s mom, who lives near them now, is still a huge Pittsburgh sports fan, often planning her day according to Pitt basketball and football games.
Although the love for his home city runs deep, Allen has no plans to head north again for anything more than a business trip or vacation. Bradenton is home.
“I wouldn’t pick anyplace else to live. When you look at this area, there’s so much to do. You’ve got spring training, you’ve got the beach, you’ve got all of these fun places to go and things to do,” he said. “I love to visit Pittsburgh and I go back quite a bit because of the business up there too, but I wouldn’t trade my lifetime here for anything.”
Click here to learn more about the McKechnie Home Clubhouse Project
Click here to learn more about the Pirate’s Strength and Conditioning Facility Project
Click here to learn more about general projects at McKechnie Field/LECOM Park