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The new president of the historic construction firm McKissack & McKissack tells us about its past and current projects and its plans for the future


  • Rance MacFarland. Photo courtesy of McKissack


For over 110 years, McKissack has been a family-run company, with roots in slavery, as its current owners’ ancestor learned the construction industry from his master. When it was incorporated in 1905, it became the country’s first African-American-owned architectural firm.

Headquartered in Manhattan, with offices in Bryant Park and Harlem, it continues to transform the city, still steeped in the tradition of its heritage. As a fifth-generation familial employee, Cheryl McKissack Daniel, serves as CEO of the company, which now generates $50 million annually and is the oldest minority-and woman-owned design and construction management firm in the United States.

This month, Rance MacFarland joined its team of 100 engineers, architects and construction managers, as the company president. With 30 years of experience in the industry, MacFarland oversees its day-to-day operations, with five direct reports from finance, marketing, estimating, construction and operations.

The firm is working on the rebuilding of Hunts Point in the Bronx, home to the meat market and the Fulton Fish Market, and turning Harlem’s Mart 125, which has been vacant since 2001, into an entrepreneurial tech space.

You were formerly the CEO of Pizzarotti-IBC, an Italian construction firm you helped to enter into the New York market.

We were their first entry into New York. I actually sold 60 percent of my company to them to get them a start here in New York.

How did your role at McKissack come about?

The company that I had founded in New York and sold to Pizzarotti was not moving in the direction that I wanted it to. And it was a mutual decision between Pizzarotti and myself that it was time for me to move on. And right in the middle of all that, I met Cheryl McKissack Daniel and we began talking about a position I knew she was looking to fill. And when it was clear I was going to part ways with Pizzarotti, I let Cheryl know and we put something together.

Tell us about its history.

McKissack was first incorporated in 1905 by Cheryl’s grandfather and his brother, Moses and Calvin Lunsford McKissack, both of whom were the first two African-American registered architects in the state of Tennessee and in the United States, for that matter. They held registered licenses number 117 and 118. The history actually goes back a little further than that. In the 1870s, the men’s grandfather worked for a Scottish immigrant, William McKissack, as a slave. And then her grandfather and his brother took over. And then her father took over. And then her mother took over when her father became ill. And the rest is history.

What are some projects the firm has underway?

Well probably one of the most exciting projects we have is up in Hunts Point for the EDC, the New York Economic Development Corp. We are the prime construction manager for the rebuild on a number of the buildings at Hunts Point, which houses the Hunts Point meat market, the Fulton Fish Market, and numerous other buildings. So we’re doing about $80 million worth of work up in Hunts Point. We’re also doing the renovation down at Pier 42 on the East River. We’re involved in the Manhattan Cruise Terminal expansion at Pier 90. We’re actually the prime contractor for Ports of America on Pier 90. They’re expanding Pier 90 to accept superliners.

What are the challenges to working in the construction industry in New York?

Well probably the biggest challenge we face right now is manpower. I think you hear that throughout the industry all over the country. Finding good people is tough. And we use a variety of methods to try and attract the best talent and so far we’ve been fairly successful. Through my 10 years in the at-risk world both in New York and coming out of Denver, I know a lot of people and senior level construction guys around the country, so have been able to draw from that pool fairly successfully. And there is a very good pool of talent here in New York City. If you’re looking for somebody good, you’re taking them away from somebody else. Right now, in the New York City construction environment, anybody who’s good is working.

Tell us about your projects in Harlem, the Studio Museum and Mart 125.

The Studio Museum is a joint venture with Sciame Construction and it is in pre-construction right now. We’re just beginning the early stages of procurement on that project. The Mart 125 project, we are the prime contractor for the EDC. And we just secured the design team, so we’re in preliminary design. We actually present the preliminary designs to the EDC here in the next couple of weeks to set a design direction. They’re basically going to turn Mart 125 [a former indoor market for street vendors] into an entrepreneurial tech space, similar to a WeWork, where they lease out individual spaces and make it very tech driven.

What are your future plans?

Right now, my company goals are basically very simple. They’re to expand our New York footprint, which we’re well on our way to doing. McKissack used to have a very formidable presence in Philadelphia and the focus was off of Philly for a number of years. And we’re now putting the focus back down there. I spend a lot of time there working to get that group back to where it used to be and even beyond. My primary short-term goals are to grow in both the New York and Philly market, but also to expand into other markets. We have an opportunity to do quite a bit of federal work down in Virginia, North Carolina, all the way down into Georgia and Florida, and we’re going to leverage those opportunities for future expansion.

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