Arrested Development

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.

  • Marie

    To Billy Baker – the only thing missing from your accounts of fishing, meals, games, etc etc is how much Don paid you to write this puff piece. It should have had a “Paid advertisement heading”. His mother would love it.

  • Sheree

    OOOHHHHH I see what the problem is…maybe if we call it an “ionic” skyscraper, the mayor will actually get it.

  • Lisa

    Fabulous article! This guy is a hard working American who only wants to improve this city. We should all take his strength and perseverance as an example of how we should live. Never give up with out a fight!!! Go Don! My message to the BRA and our lovely Mayor is get your head out of your butts boys!

  • Bill

    Boston’s development process is horribly broken and embarrassingly short-sighted. It’s a great city, not a cookie-cutter suburb. We can do better. Let Chiafaro build his buildings.

  • donna

    Obviously the BRA has a filtered memory!!!

  • Towny

    Grow up! You were played. The ones screwed are those behind the closed doors. These are not innocent boys.

    Find another story? We are tired of wasting OPM and headlines for Don and Ted.

  • Ted

    I just returned from Singapore — after a decade-plus absence.

    With a forest of one skyscrapers there is one iconic complex — the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Shopping Center, Convention Center and Casino — Google it for a picture.
    By far not the tallest — it has a unique “skypark” at the 53 floor – complete with mega swimming pool

    Don needs to deliver something to the City as unique as Marina Bay Sands is to Singapore. Not just height, bulk, shape — but utility and Function
    Perhaps he should talk to Moshe Safdie (MBS master architect) who had a design for a museum on the Greenway and who has an office in Somerville Safdie’s design principles fit well in the Aquarium Towers concept: 1) shaping the public realm; 2) architecture with a purpose; 3) responding to the essence of place; 4) architecture that is buildable; 5) building responsibly; and most importantly – 6) humanizing the megascale.

    A hint Boston needs a somewhat neater, indoor (or at least covered) version of the 3rd world Haymarket — perhaps a Safdie designed or influenced Glass Market could be added to the Aquarium Tower or built elsewhere near to the Greenway.