LaPlace developer proves perseverance pays

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2005

Scontrion overcomes missed Belle Terre opportunity to become one of the most successful River Region Businessman

LAPLACE – Joey Scontrino can sit back in his big easy chair in the Landcraft Homes office and smile when he talks about the “one that got away.”

But nearly a decade ago, it probably wasn’t so easy.

Scontrino was inches away from being a co-owner of the massive and highly lucrative Belle Terre Land Development back in the mid-90s, when the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) was liquidating the long list of properties it was in charge of.

That deal slipped out of his fingers at the last second, with some circumstances that might have made anyone pretty upset.

But even as the top River Region developer may have missed his chance to have a stake in the Belle Terre deal, his drive to never give up and continue to bounce back has put him among the most successful businesmen in the area today.

And with a long list of successful land deals now behind him even though still a youthful 44 years of age, Scontrino is finding it easier and easier to laughŠat least a littleŠabout missing the Belle Terre deal.

“Sure, I was pretty angry when that all happened, especially the way I was left out of a deal I thought I was a part of,” he noted. “But now I look back on it as a lesson learned. And maybe that is part of what helped me get to where I am today.”

Where Scontrino is today is a pretty nice position in itself.

Operating the Landcraft Homes office from Fairway Drive, ironically right down the street from Belle Terre, Scontrino doesn’t have time to worry any longer about the one that got away.

Instead, his empire is growing by leaps and bounds with one development after another, and nothing but a bright future ahead of him.

Scontrino is considered among the ten wealthiest businessmen in the River Region area, now worth reportedly between $20 million and $30 million, according to sources to L’Observateur.

But getting to that lofty position is a story that should be an inspiration to anyone who hears it. Not only did Scontrino build his empire entirely by himself from scratch, but he overcame a handful of setbacks that might have made many others throw in the towel.

“Perseverance, I think that would be the word that might best describe how I got to this point,” he said recently from his office. “I’ve had some pretty tough trials. My wife died of breast cancer, I lost the Belle Terre deal, and the Landmark company I was originally with went bankrupt. But I just kept fighting. I’m no genius, but I’m the kind of guy who just keeps pushing forward and that has probably been the biggest reason for my success.”

Humble Beginnings

Growing up in the River Region, Scontrino came from a family with four brothers and a sister, and endured the divorce of his parents before going to Godchaux High, and then to UNO.

He married his high school sweetheart at the age of 19 and never finished college, probably due to the fact he was finding a lot of success in the construction business. For that matter, his start was an interesting one in itself, and showed the drive the young man would later carry into his adult life.

“When I was 12, Riverland Heights was across the street from my home and my mom wanted me to try to get to mow the grass of their model homes. I knocked on the owners door and told him I could do it cheaper than the guys who were cutting the grass. But I didn’t even have a mower and at first he told me I couldn’t do it,” he recalled. “But my mom let me use her mower and I got the job.”

From there he began doing other jobs with the development, owned by the huge Landmark Land Company at the time. He did everything from grass cutting to working on homes with the laborers, something that would prove to be instrumental in his eventual move to the top of the local homebuilding industry.

“I learned so much, not only about home construction, but also about the business,” he said.

By the young age of 18 he was already a construction supervisor and appeared on his way to a big future.

But with money always a need for any young married couple, he got an opportunity to go to work for the Marathon Oil Company and thought he was ready to change careers. That lasted all of a couple of hours.

“I got the Marathon job, which was making a lot more money, and really thought this would be great. But my first day on the job they showed me what I was going to do, and as I looked at it, I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the fact that I wouldn’t have the freedom to be out and doing my own thing. So I just handed them the hard hat, apologized for quitting so fast and left,” he said.

When he talked to Riverlands Owner Gary Kearney, who had given him his first job with Landmark, he was back in construction by the same night.

However with the turmoil created in the savings and loan industry during the early 1990s, Landmark was one of the casualties and went bankrupt, eventually leading to Scontrino losing his job after the RTC took over the company.

Starting His Own Business

In 1991 Scontrino and his wife Tammy were at a crossroads. He had a chance to take a sales job in Texas, or venture out on his own. But for Scontrino, the decision probably was never a tough one.

“My wife and I had $43,000 and she was working at Marathon. But rather than take something safe, we decided to start our own home building business. Her confidence in me always made such a big difference in everything I did,” he explained.

His first year saw him make nearly $75,000 by building a few small homes and even small additions on houses, then he got involved in a land deal in Reserve where he helped develop 40 homes. Within three years he was making close to $400,000 a year.

“That really got me on the map, but in the homebuilding industry it is all about who owns the land, and here in this area, the land was scarce to build on since so many people have it tied up in family ownership,” he said.

That brought about the opportunity for Belle Terre, where it looked like Scontrino was about to hit the jackpot of jackpots.

The Belle Terre land development, which was only partially built at the time, was on the auction block by the RTC, offering close to 800 acres. While Scontrino wanted to buy it, he knew he wasn’t a big enough player to have the capital to turn the deal.

“I was contacted by a New Orleans company that was huge in the area, and we agreed that I would put the whole deal together, do all the research, and get the bid ready for the RTC. In exchange, I would have a partnership in the entire project. It was going to be the deal of my life,” he recalled.

While he got the bid ready, Scontrino says he remembers how difficult it was to get his personal agreement for his share of that property signed.

“They kept putting off signing the final papers, and I was immature enough that I didn’t know how to handle that. So when the deadline to turn in the bid came, I just turned it in,” he said.

The big company eventually won the bid for $5.3 million, but Scontrino suddenly found his phone calls weren’t being returned and he was left out in the cold.

“I eventually was given 1 percent of the deal, $53,000, which I got in a meeting at a Burger King. But that was a multi-million dollar piece of property that is still producing money to this day,” he added.

“After I got over the initial anger about it all, I just realized I got beat in a business deal,” he said. “I immediately started trying to buy lots from them.”

On To Other Things

Since that time, Scontrino never let the Belle Terre deal slow him down. He got involved with local attorney Danny Becnel Jr. on a series of subdivisions developed on Highway 51. Becnel also was able to purchase a large tract of land from the RTC of 400 acres for $1.7 million, which then allowed Scontrino to begin buying pieces of it to build local subdivisions Riverwood, Ridgewood, Indigo Lakes, and now his new site of Summerlin. All told, he has built 800 homes just in that area alone, with more to come.

“I have to say one thing about my dealings with Danny Becnel. That is one man who helped me get where I am, and he was a guy who was a man of his word. We agreed with a handshake to have a business deal on that site, and Danny has always kept his word. Personally, I have a great appreciation for the relationship we have had,” Scontrino said.

But that hasn’t been all that Scontrino has done. He bought land to build homes in Riverland Heights, he has a new development in Reserve called Cole’s Landing that will produce 125 homes, and another in St. Charles, called Oak Ridge that will be the site of 130 more homes. Along with other projects, he also has several condo deals in the works in Belle Terre and in the Woodlands near Interstate 10.

As for the future of growth and construction in LaPlace, as well as St. John Parish, Scontrino has some concerns.

“I have tracked the growth very carefully here for years,” he noted. “Our growth has only come from the people moving out from the city, and I see some problems with that continuing. Jefferson Parish is about to open up some west bank property that will take a lot of our growth, and St. Charles Parish has some similar areas that will take the inter-moving from New Orleans.”

He is also afraid of the image portrayed in St. John Parish.

“I hate to say it, but the image in this area is not good. The schools here don’t have a good reputation, the politics is not good and we are only going to support entry level and second time homebuyers for the most part. I love it here, and it’s going to remain my home, but I’m concerned about the future here unless we have industry, or some other big business, that helps with job creation,” he added.

But as for Scontrino, his history proves that he will be more than just a survivor.

His track record of rolling with the bumps of life, and in business, will serve as an example for others who may try to make it in the business world.

“Those setbacks could have been the end for me. But I’m a guy who feels like you have to take the setbacks and press on,” he said. “That’s what I’ll always do.”