Home Port for J.C. Cannistraro

The FID is a symbol of workforce opportunity and economic redevelopment in the heart of Boston’s industrial marine district.

A fid is a marine tool used by sailors to untie and tighten knots. The name Fid also refers to South Boston longshoreman Thomas “Fid” Kennedy, who fought for his local union to raise work-life standards for city dockworkers. 

To J.C. Cannistraro, the knot is generations-old relationships and an expanding family of dedicated workers who have helped evolve a small plumbing business into one of the largest mechanical construction companies in New England. Fid Kennedy Avenue is the new address for its headquarters. And The FID is a nickname for its new center for Fabrication, Industry and Design. 

The 60-year-old, multi-trade contracting company redeveloped, restored and reinvigorated a 1940 Army Corps of Engineer metal shop that was built to support the allied war effort during World War II. It is located at 25 Fid Kennedy in “Building 16” in what was the Boston Navel Annex and is now The Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park. The 3.5-acre lot had fallen into disrepair — it was a shell of its industrial Art Deco self, yet contained rich history. 

John Cannistraro Jr., president, saw opportunity. 

“We needed to get under one roof,” he says, explaining how the company has essentially added a trade every 10 years and now offers plumbing, HVAC, piping, sheet metal and fire protection services. J.C. Cannistraro maintained three shops and an office location on the outskirts of Boston.

But the majority of its work is in the metropolitan Boston area, Cannistraro says. Milestone projects include Gillette Stadium — home to the New England Patriots, revitalizing Logan Airport through many projects, and Harvard University Science and Engineering complex. 

“The beauty of being in the city is definitely an opportunity for workforce development and mentorship, and to have a presence,” Cannistraro says, emphasizing that one of the company’s goals is to connect people from different backgrounds living in all neighborhoods to the trades. 

“For us, to be able to showcase opportunity in the city and recruit young people to provide a chance for fulfilling union jobs is why we exist,” he says. “The building is there to support that mission for the company, so it’s much more than a fabrication shop.”

Historic Proportions
The former heavy metal naval marine machine shop fit like a glove for J.C. Cannistraro’s operations. “You can drive the largest tractor trailers we use completely around and through the building,” he says. “And because it was used for manufacturing during the war, inside they had service boats, ships, marine craft, artillery, tanks — and a railway that went through the building.”

For us, to be able to showcase opportunity in the city and recruit young people to provide a chance for fulfilling union jobs is why we exist. The building is there to support that mission for the company, so it’s much more than a fabrication shop.
— John Cannistraro Jr.

Measuring 157,000 square feet with two levels, it has a 50-foot clearance height on the first floor with a 20-foot ceiling on the second. Cannistraro envisioned a 25-foot-long material hoist in the center lane, which was created during construction. “That way, a trailer truck of raw material piping can be unloaded and brought up to the second floor,” he explains. 

On the ground floor, J.C. Cannistraro houses its fabrication operations for sheet metal and large HVAC welding. Upstairs is fabrication for fire protection, plumbing and small-bore piping. “It is perfect for our use,” he says. 

Though getting it to this point required tremendous due diligence and rigorous pre-construction. That included working with the National Park Service to have the building and surrounding area designated as a historic district, which provided a needed financial incentive to take on the project. Plus, there were extensive negotiations with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Economic Development Industrial Corporation (EDIC) leading economic development on industrial and manufacturing properties in town, including The FID. 

J.C. Cannistraro was awarded a 70-year lease. Indeed, the project is one-of-a-kind and triggered a domino effect of redevelopment in the neighborhood once completed. “The building is now informing the design of brand-new, state-of-the-art life sciences buildings that are popping up around us in the neighborhood,” he says. 

Companies like GE and Amazon are now close by, as is the development and construction company, Skanska. 

In many ways, J.C. Cannistraro is helping pioneer a revival at the marine industrial park. This, too, speaks to the company’s vision to mentor and pass it on — grow an avenue to provide a satisfying livelihood for families, and sustain trades for generations to come. 

All this takes hard work, as did the planning and construction process at the old Building 16. 

J.C. Cannistraro worked with a design team to adhere to strict guidelines for preserving the historic facility. “We replicated the façade, doors, windows, exterior,” Cannistraro says. “Design started in 2016 and we were manufacturing product in the spring of 2018.” 

Today, J.C. Cannistraro offers plumbing, HVAC, piping, sheet metal and fire protection services. On page 14, an employee uses a Pittsburgh lock air hammer. Top: The Vernon MPM CNC 5-axis pipe cutting machine in use. Above: Stick welding using the Pandjiris pipe positioner. 

The FID opened in 2017 and fabrication started in spring 2018. 

The Logistics 
Cost was probably the greatest challenge, Cannistraro says. “Although it is more expensive to be right in the city, there’s a big productivity and delivery advantage to being located right in Boston,” he relates. 

“When we are fabricating, we are just a mile or two from our projects, so it improves communication between the office, shop and field,” he says. “We can host project meetings right here with clients, engineers, architects and field leaders. Our clients can see the infrastructure being made and make modifications, and they know what’s there and that we can deliver it soon after it’s completed. It really helps to have all of these resources under one roof.”

As a 3.5-acre building, “it’s still a tight spot for a mechanical construction firm of our size,” Cannistraro says. With less storage, there is more just-in-time delivery, making scheduling and sequencing work even more of a focus. But this just makes J.C. Cannistraro work smarter and stay lean. 

As for the move, consolidating three facilities into one central building was also a feat. “At the time, we had about 600 people in the field, and at maximum capacity we had about 100 various fabricating trades inside the shops,” he says. 

So, the transition occurred in stages to avoid downtime. “We needed to continually get product out to the jobs and keep the field going with fabrication in the shop,” Cannistraro points out. 

A Symbol of Hope 
That’s what Cannistraro calls The FID. 

“It sets the tone for the future of our firm and the next generations of workforce and family,” he says. “It’s also a symbol of pursuing operational excellence and developing the workforce of the future.”

J.C. Cannistraro offers a different construction culture that considers the whole person, treating employees like family, ensuring they get the support to thrive. “There are more multi-generation families in this business than there are family members who manage the business,” Cannistraro points out. 

He wants young people to see they could join a legacy of success. 

So, the company is in its second year of a summer camp through SMACNA’s Heavy Metal Summer Experience. This year, 70 applicants tried for 14 available spots for the one-week program that is designed to prime the workforce development pump. 

“To us, if we can bring new life into every single trade — even just a few people — in parallel with union efforts, over the course of 50 years, we can change the path for hundreds of families who can learn and master a skilled trade and see what that can do for their future,” Cannistraro says. “That is what keeps us going.”
Cannistraro is the third generation, and his grandfather immigrated with his grandmother, neither speaking English. “My father was the first one to receive a formal education,” he says.

“Today, skilled labor and trades are just as important.”

Leading by example is how skilled trades are carried on — the apprentice, the mentor, the relationship — a cycle that must continue. In every way, the reimagining of this naval industrial landmark is a symbol of just that.     

Cannistraro says, “It’s the project of a lifetime.”