Not Playing Around
Recreational Design & Construction, Inc. fearlessly tackles large-scale, complex builds
Make no mistake about it—Recreational Design & Construction, Inc. (RDC) may be in the business of athletic fields, playgrounds and swimming pools, but it’s not playing around.
“When you tell people you work in parks and rec, they tend to look at you and jokingly say, ‘make sure the green side’s up!’” says Joe Cerrone, RDC’s President, CEO and Principal-in-Charge. “But that’s an oversimplification of what we do. These are very large, complex projects.”
Case in point: picture a typical swimming pool. Now, envision a $12 million aquatic facility with a 50-meter pool, lazy river, splash deck, concession area, staff offices, restrooms and parking lot. RDC is known for tackling the latter.
For the past 25 years, the Florida-based company has been an industry-leading designer and builder that specializes in the development of aesthetically satisfying commercial, municipal, aquatic, recreational and sports facilities.
To date, RDC has completed over 250 large-scale and stunningly complex projects throughout the United States, with an emphasis in Florida’s Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Monroe and St. Lucie counties.
Central to that work is the company’s team of principals, which boasts decades of experience applying the latest technology and cost-saving methods to even the biggest challenges.
“We’re on the cutting edge of technology,” Joe says. “And we love new and adventurous jobs.”
Built for Builds
Joe says the team’s fearless approach is rooted in the company’s DNA.
It’s rooted in his, too. He was born into—and made for—the construction industry.
“My great-grandfather was brought to this country as a stone mason to build Grand Central Station in New York City,” he says. “My grandfather and father were both custom homebuilders and developers. I’ve done nothing but build my entire life.”
After years of success overseeing a firm that ranked in the top 500 commercial interior construction companies in the United States, Joe joined RDC in 1995.
“I thought, this sounded like a lot of fun,” he says. “I got to work in a park—how can you beat that?”
The company’s original team of partners included a tennis court builder, an electrical contractor and a marketing specialist who previously worked as a parks and recreation director for a large municipality.
“We all have diverse backgrounds,” says Joe, who’s responsible for RDC’s daily operations and overseeing business development and preconstruction. “We all brought our strengths, and that’s what has grown the company for so many years.”
When Joe first joined, the then 2-year-old company primarily specialized in building tennis courts. His addition to the team—and his general contractor license—changed the firm’s trajectory.
RDC’s portfolio expanded to include parks, aquatic complexes, recreational and sports facilities; and from 1993 through 2007, the company achieved an exceptional growth rate—sometimes 100% in a year.
When the market crashed in 2008, however, Joe’s more senior partners opted to take their retained earnings and retire. As the last man standing, he found himself in a municipal market that was completely saturated with heavy-hitting competition.
So, Joe took a risk and steered the company in a different direction, building pools for contractors.
“We traveled the country building pools from Washington to Oregon to California to Utah—you name it, we were all over the country building and repairing pools,” he says.
When the market began to pick up again, Miami’s condominium, hotel and resort markets began to boom and RDC partnered with large developers and builders.
They took on massive projects like Porsche Design Tower’s recreational pool and its 116 individual balcony pools; Privé at Island Estates’ 20 elevated pools on an eight-acre private island; and exclusive executive pools and spas for SLS Brickell hotel and residences.
As the company’s reputation for superior design, solid construction and efficient operations grew, Joe expanded the company’s services to include interiors and hospitality.
Joe also recruited “some of the top project managers in the construction industry.”
One of what Joe proudly refers to as his “fearless bulldozers” is Mayra Tellez, who started her career in the building industry as a receptionist and worked her way up through various large firms before landing a role at RDC.
Mayra has a knack for creativity, and finding a way to get the job done.
“When you’re in construction, you’re going to experience roadblocks,” she says. “It can be with the health department or the city, with a shortage of materials or budget. You have to think outside the box. You have to come up with a solution that stays within budget and on time.”
On Mayra’s current luxury high-rise apartment complex project for The Bristol in Palm Beach, for example, the customer requested that a Myrtha pool from Italy be tiled with 30 different types of tile and designed with challenging slopes that require complex cutting techniques. She drew on her RDC team’s knowledge of different vendors to get the job done.
“It’s an everyday thing,” she says. “And it wouldn’t be possible without the team. We all have different backgrounds, and everybody has different experiences and knowledge. We sit down at a round table to go over the challenges we’re having and everybody gives their input. That’s how we come up with solutions.”
According to Joe, it’s that can-do attitude toward tackling newer and bigger projects that helps the team thrive.
“People like to be stretched,” he says. “I thoroughly believe that if you put someone in an office and they simply build high-rise after high-rise, they’ll just want out of there. We try to stretch people and want them to grow. That’s what sets us apart.”
The industry seems to agree. Under Joe’s leadership, RDC has received many facility awards from the Design-Build Institute of America, United States Tennis Association and the U.S. Green Building Council as well as accolades for outstanding public facilities.
But there’s something else that sets them apart, too.
A few years ago, Joe traveled to Haiti through his church to see how he could get involved in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
“I saw the kids there and my heart just broke for them,” he says. “Their quality of life is nothing near what ours is, and yet they’re happy.”
But, Joe noticed, they had nothing to play on.
He connected with El Shaddai Ministries International (ESMI), a Haitian-based charity that runs orphanages across the country, and asked if he could donate and build a playground.
“I thought, ‘this is kind of silly, why would these kids need a playground when they’re worried about food and living conditions?’” he says. “Then we went there and built it, and it changed my life. That experience of watching kids who have nothing to play on enjoy a playground…something we all take for granted…I had sunglasses on because it choked me up.”
Joe has since partnered with ESMI three times on building playgrounds in Haiti, with a fourth in the works. He and his family pay for the materials and the shipment, and he hires local labor to mix the concrete while he and other volunteers dig and build. Inspired by that trip, Joe recently found a local nonprofit called CityHouse in Delray Beach and asked his team if they wanted to help him build a playground to benefit single mothers and their children.
“I asked everybody, ‘Are you guys interested?’ and there wasn’t a person who declined,” he says. “Everybody showed up to help. It was an incredible experience.”
Christina Cerrone, Joe’s daughter who works at RDC as an Administrative Assistant, volunteered at the playground builds in both Haiti and Florida. She says it’s particularly special that RDC found a way to incorporate what they do for a living into something that is helpful for a child’s social and physical growth.
“I think that any company, whatever industry you’re in, can give back in some way,” she says. “It’s special that we found a way. The CityHouse effort shows you don’t have to go all the way to Haiti to make an impact in someone’s life. Reaching around the corner and into the community is something we’ll always take pride in.”