Photo of Mark Bellissimo by Mike Belleme
Floridian Mark Bellissimo created a stir in western North Carolina with his group’s $250 million investment in a 1,600-acre equestrian complex near Tryon, which hosted an event in September that attracted more than 100,000 people and gave the region unprecedented international exposure. But Bellissimo says his U.S. Precision Construction “will dwarf the value” of his horse-related holdings in North Carolina and Wellington, Fla., because of the potential of modular building in the hotel and multifamily housing industries. “It will have an amazing impact on the regional economy,” Bellissimo said at a Charlotte Chamber event in October.
U.S. Precision will build multifamily housing units, including fully furnished rooms, at its factory in Forest City. The units will then be transported to customers’ sites where assembly is completed. The beta test is a 90-room hotel for the Tryon International Equestrian Center to be completed in mid-2019.
Modular construction is a significant trend in the hotel business; Marriott International has used the system in several new hotels in the last two years, including the AC Hotel in downtown Chapel Hill, with modules including pre-installed beds and bathrooms. An even bigger opportunity may involve affordable-housing units, which are in short supply in most major U.S. metro areas.
The modular approach takes 25% of the cost of traditional construction, Belissimo says. Because most production occurs off-site, the impact of persistent skilled-labor shortages is lessened.
Naysayers question his ability to compete with bigger contractors. The owner has been promoting U.S. Precision’s promise for about a year with few tangible results, yet.
Then again, few thought the equestrian center made financial sense, Bellissimo told the Charlotte group. An undisclosed investment in robotics equipment will give his company an advantage in speeding deliveries and reducing costs by sharply reducing the number of employees, he says. About 40 people work at the plant.
Cabinetry for the units will come from 67-employee Touchstone Fine Cabinetry, which Bellissimo bought last year after officials said they were closing the Rutherfordton-based business. The work ethic of Touchstone’s staff impressed him, giving him confidence to invest more in the region. “We’re trying to disrupt the $1 trillion construction industry, but people are fearful of change, and that leads to criticism,” he says. “But visions don’t come with majority support.”
Lest one doubt Bellissimo, his Florida development has become “a winter oasis for the upper crust,” Business Insider reports. Or, as he terms it, “the greatest aggregation of wealth in the U.S.” While his N.C. project won’t have the glitz, he says the business opportunity is even greater.