boston.com Your Life your connection to The Boston Globe
Tim Pappas
Tim Pappas, president of Pappas Enterprises Inc., is committed to green projects such as the Macallen building in South Boston. (Erik Jacobs for The Boston Globe)

Building a reputation

Can Tim Pappas - a young, wealthy, race-car driving developer - set the standard for eco-conscious living in Boston?

"Forget it," Tim Pappas says. He's leaning against a wall in his South Boston sales office, sliding his sunglasses up over his hair.

There will be no Hollywood film crew hunkering down in the Macallen, the luxury condo building that Pappas developed. Marsha Yamaykina, the office manager for Pappas Enterprises Inc., looks hard at her boss just to make sure he's not interested in playing host to "Bachelor No. 2."

He nods. "I know what happens when you rent a location," says Pappas, who has a film degree from New York University. "They trash the place. I'd rather not put the residents and everyone though the hassle."

Not that Pappas usually shies away from the spotlight. Just 34, he's the president of his family's four-decade-old real estate development company. Off the clock, he enjoys a lifestyle that rivals a movie star's for sheer glamour - racing cars, flying airplanes, collecting expensive art. He even speaks of one day starting a film career of his own. These days, though, Pappas has been spending his time focused on the Macallen.

Geographically, the building is slightly off the grid, away from glare of the Back Bay and chic haunts of the South End. But the Macallen is hard to miss, its brown, steely exterior and sloping roof rising nearly 150 feet out of South Boston, just off the Expressway. The building has gotten much attention for its environmental focus, from bamboo floors to cotton insulation to the roof plantings meant to provide natural cooling.

It's this approach - melding environmental consciousness, luxury living, and forward-thinking design - that defines Pappas, and makes him a new kind of developer in Boston. By making green living stylish, he's at the forefront of a movement that could be the future in Boston and beyond, as an enviro-conscious generation rethinks the way we live.

"Traditional developers tend to focus on trying to get in and get out," says Steve Brittan of Burt Hill, the architects of record for the Macallen. (Office dA is the project's design architect.) "They look for their returns on their investments. Then they move on. Tim has an attachment."

"He never gave up on us trying to perfect and hone the design to the nth degree," said Office dA's Nader Tehrani. "Another developer would have abandoned the precision and the detailing of the thing at midbreath."

Hands-on learning

It was only last year that Pappas took over the family business. His father, Jim, said the new assignment was natural for the company, which was started by Tim's great-grandfather, Constantine, in the early 1900s shortly after he immigrated to Boston from Greece.

Back then, the Pappas company imported grocery supplies. Later, the family branched out, buying warehouses, building a massive store for Sears in White Plains, N.Y., and, from the mid-'40s to the '60s, running the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Jim Pappas, who grew up in Milton and, like his children, attended Milton Academy, was just 25 when he took over the company in the early 1970s.

Jim eased his son into the company slowly. Years ago, the elder Pappas would bring his young son to construction sites. Later, as a teenager, Tim worked on labor crews during the summer for $7 an hour. At NYU, Pappas decided he wanted to study film. His father suspected he would return to the fold.

"I never believed we were going to go into the film business and bankroll him into making movies," said Jim, 61, now the company's chairman of the board. "From his senior project at [NYU], he made a great little 25- or 30-minute film that probably cost $100,000 to make. He realized it wasn't just a walk in the park, and that just because you have passions and interests, you have to make them work and they have to pay for themselves."

The Court Square Press building, directly across a driveway from the Macallen, was the first development Tim Pappas oversaw and it marked the family's first foray into residential real estate. The project, which called for renovating a century-old building into condos, opened in 2004. Not everyone was happy with the way the younger Pappas handled the job.

John Keith, a real estate broker who maintains the Boston Real Estate Blog, said that too many issues went unresolved as Court Square opened, ranging from Internet and cable access to landscaping. After dealing with Pappas, Keith described him as "more ignorant than arrogant."

And yet, even Keith, who sold his Court Square unit last year, concedes that he's impressed by the young developer's vision.

"I like the Macallen building and I don't think too many people would have the guts to build something like that," said Keith. "It's huge and it's unique and it's stylish."

On the move

On a warm, summer weekday, Pappas offers to give two tours, the first of his current home in the Court Square building and the second, next door, at his potential new digs in the Macallen.

Though it's a workday, Pappas doesn't look like a typical developer. He could be off for a day of sailing in white pants, a light shirt, and shoes without socks. He doesn't wear a hard hat when he enters the construction zone.

DISCUSS GREEN LIVING: Share your tips and ideas at boston.com/living.

Pappas admits he's still not sure he's going to move from Court Square. That space, which he shares with his longtime girlfriend, artist and designer Jess Meyer, has almost everything a young, wealthy, art-collecting developer could need. High ceilings, a dark oak floor, a Basquiat and a Murakami. Racing trophies rest atop a 70-inch TV.

The one thing missing? A staircase to the roof deck. Office dA has designed a special set of stairs that's meant to be cantilevered, its framing suspended from the ceiling. It'll cost about $150,000.

"But I'm going to do it this fall," he says.

So why move?

"It's become an ongoing debate," Pappas concedes. "Jess is not itching to move. And it's not so much I want to move than that it's in my programming, my DNA, to move every three years."

His new place, the Macallen penthouse, is far from complete, just a shell of a space littered with construction debris. The frame of the 45-foot-long lap pool is in, though, as are the retractable roof panels above it. At 5,600 square feet, there's room for a gym. It boasts views of the city from three sides.

If he sells the place, Pappas estimates he'll put it on the market for $8 million.

Standing next to the lap pool, Pappas is asked if he ever worries that people resent him for his money.

"I'm not bashful about the fact that my dad and his dad worked their [butts] off and they were successful," Pappas said. "I don't need to apologize for that. On the other hand, I work hard. I live well, but I also put in an incredible amount of time."

Full speed ahead

Taking over a real estate company hasn't stopped Pappas from racing his special, hand-built Porsche in the American Le Mans series. (So far in 2007, he's finished fifth in a pair of races.)

"He loves speed, and he has absolutely no fear," says Brittan, who has hopped into a race car with Pappas before. "There's no taking care as you come around a corner. It is absolutely pushing the limits of gravity and every possible extreme from start to finish."

But it isn't fearlessness that impresses Brittan. It's how much Pappas knows - about cars, from race strategy to environmental concerns about what is essentially a carbon-burning nightmare. (To offset all the exhaust his Porche belches into the atmosphere, Pappas says he contributes to a wind energy project in the Midwest.) Brittan says he sees Pappas use the same enthusiasm and intelligence when he's dealing with a building project.

Once a week, Pappas finds himself at a rectangular table in the Macallen's makeshift office, hashing out the latest issues at a regular construction meeting.

It's not sexy stuff, all this talk of garage door pressurization ducts and sound attenuators. Eventually, the two sides - the construction company's managers, and Pappas and his representative - begin to deal with the extra, unexpected costs in the project. One discussion centers on two units that, in the architectural drawings, did not include ceilings. He and the construction company's project manager politely argue about who's responsible for the cost of finishing the units.

Riding the Macallen elevator after the meeting, Pappas reflects on that part of the job.

"If you take your eyes off the ball, you can get really hurt in this business," he says. "That's a lesson that's been beat into my head. When you get involved in development, there is that cool, glamorous side. The problem is the nuts and bolts of building are not glamorous at all."

A few minutes later, he's on the roof, showing off the view from the penthouse deck. The building overlooks not only the smaller Court Square, but Boston itself. You can see to Logan Airport on one side, the Prudential and Hancock on the other.

"Now this," Pappas says, looking out over the city, "is pretty ridiculous."

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com. For more on the arts, visit boston.com/ae/ theater_arts/exhibitionist.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES