Thirty years ago, Don Chiofaro built Boston’s largest office complex. These days he likes doing hot yoga, communing with whales, and laying the groundwork for constructing the city’s next iconic skyscraper. So why does the mayor have such a problem with that?
DON CHIOFARO THE DEVELOPER has a big mustache and forearms like railroad ties and says he’s 5-foot-9 but is lying a little bit there.
Tommy Lee Jones, his teammate on the Harvard football team in the late ’60s, says Chiofaro is about as wide as he is tall. He seems to be in constant motion, even when he is sitting down, and when he is actually moving — he likes to walk and talk — Chiofaro often switches direction for emphasis. In midstride, he’ll stop and, as if the abrupt stop were not enough, smack the arm of his companion and say, “The point I want to make is…” And then he’ll make his point.
He is known, he concedes, as something of a “tough guy.” The son of a Belmont cop, he lifts weights and plays on a rugby team that recently competed in Argentina. He thinks of real estate development as a game — “Donnyball,” as one of his former Harvard Business School professors calls it — and says everything he knows about development he learned as a linebacker: strategic force, applied quickly. His company logo is a ram. When he’s not talking, he is often adjusting his waistband and crotch, like an athlete between plays.
He’s said to be the basis for Charlie Croker, the main character in Tom Wolfe’s novel A Man in Full, who is a larger-than-life former football player and alpha-male real estate developer.
His critics say the problem with Chiofaro is that you never know what you’re going to get. Some days, he’s laying on his considerable charm and playing nice; on other days, he’s a steamroller. Every Friday morning, he does hot yoga. On Saturday mornings, he puts on old clothes and takes his ugly little boat out into Gloucester Harbor and pulls his seven lobster traps from the sea floor by hand. After that’s done, he often likes to motor 11 miles out to the edge of the Stellwagen Bank and sit alone and “have a picnic with the whales.” He takes Italian classes. In the past he’s studied Latin dance and flying trapeze. He’s recently gotten into Zumba. He is pretty certain that he can still kick your ass, but his father taught him “how and when to be tough.” He is now 64 years old and the most talked-about developer in Boston, even though he hasn’t built anything in the city in nearly two decades.