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Washington Neighborhoods
Angelo Falconi has money, land, dealerships and savvy

Sunday, June 16, 2002

By Janice Crompton, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Angelo Frank Falconi was born Feb. 19, 1923, the night the wind ripped the roof off his family's new home in the Hill Station area of Cecil.

Angelo and his twin sister Melinda were the first children of Cesare and Elena Falconi, who only months before had left their home in Rome, Italy, for America's shores.

The family couldn't help but see the incident as a sign. Little did they realize, their son would become one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in the region.

The Falconi name is legendary in Washington County. Throughout most of his adult life, 79-year-old Angelo Falconi has been known as a savvy businessman, land baron, and as one of the most generous philanthropists in the area.

Most recently, Falconi gave his time, money and family name to a project to build a minor-league baseball stadium in North Franklin. Falconi Field opened May 29, when the home team, the Washington Wild Things, played its first regular-season game in the 3,200-seat facility.

Falconi also is credited with saving hundreds of jobs four years ago when he purchased MAC Plastics in Canton, only minutes before it was to be sold off in pieces at a bankruptcy sale. And he was among a handful of investors that in 1999 helped to keep the struggling Penguins hockey team in Pittsburgh.

Though his name is well known, Falconi has managed to avoid the spotlight for decades, preferring to work his genius from the shadows. He always has declined media interviews, although he's had countless requests.

Last month, the shy, reclusive South Strabane resident spoke exclusively with the Post-Gazette about his life.

Although he's paring his business interests for estate purposes, Falconi is still involved with about 33 companies in six states. He is the chairman of all the companies, except the Penguins, and the majority stockholder in many of them. They run the gamut from automotive dealerships, which he's best known for, to mobile home parks and, of course, real estate. As Brian Smith of Washington Federal Savings Bank said, "Angelo is a conglomerate." His businesses employ about 1,000 people -- 700 of which are local.

He may own more property in the county than any other single individual. His father and his uncle, Dominick Falconi, came to America with the belief that property is money. A true story that has become Falconi folklore involved a time his father and uncle passed nice farmland in Cross Creek, prompting Cesare to comment he wanted to look into buying it. When he did, he discovered he already owned it

Cesare and Dominick Falconi worked in area coal mines, then later opened a small grocery store. As with other blue-collar families at the time, work was more important than education. Falconi attended five years of elementary school, then enrolled in a military academy in Virginia for two years. He later served in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

But Falconi was a natural businessman. He had an eye for opportunity and the skills to parlay it into success.

His job at a used car lot in his teens set the course for his future. He could crunch numbers like a whiz and sell a car to anybody.

At 19, Falconi purchased a Ford franchise. He went on to open about 30 more automotive dealerships in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, California and Arizona. He now is a partner in a Las Vegas project to build the largest Acura dealership in the world.

He foretold that foreign cars would sell big in the U.S. and opened one of the first Honda and Toyota dealerships in the country. Although he has many luxury cars, the unpretentious Falconi frequently lends them to family and drives a 20-year-old Honda Prelude instead.

The Falconi family is close-knit, and family loyalty is obvious. Falconi's nephew, Washington attorney Edward Morascyzk, handles a lot of Falconi's business affairs, and they share an office in Washington. He knows anecdotes about Falconi's life nearly as well as Falconi does, and his banter with the older man seems to show affection and admiration for the man he describes as "low-key," with "remarkable" business sense.

"What he knows, you can't learn in school," Morascyzk said. "He has the knack and vision to be there before anybody else . . . . He's never afraid to get his hands dirty."

Melinda Borrelli, Falconi's twin, spends time at the office. On a recent day, Falconi asked several times if she would like him to get her lunch. But she had other plans. From a restaurant, he called her again to make sure she hadn't changed her mind.

The new baseball stadium wouldn't have been possible without Falconi, said state Rep. Leo J. Trich Jr., D-North Franklin. The $5.8 million project needed seed money, but neither the state nor local banks would commit to the project unless there was major local support.

That's when Falconi stepped in, pledging one of his buildings -- the former Meadows Fitness & Racquet Club in South Strabane -- as collateral for the project.

"He kept the project alive," Trich said. "Without his help, we couldn't have made it."

Falconi and his first wife, Alice, raised one son, Angelo Mark "Angie" Falconi. Alice Falconi died in 1979, and Falconi remarried 17 years ago. His wife, Paula, operates the Magic City Travel Agency in the Washington Mall.

The couple owns a condominium in Florida and recently finished construction of another home near the Club at Nevillewood in Collier, Allegheny County.

Falconi admits he's a workaholic. It isn't unusual for him to work more than 12 hours a day, although Paula Falconi said she's grown accustomed to it.

"He puts other people always before himself," she said.

His son, 45, is involved with several businesses and operates Washington Honda Harley-Davidson dealership in Canton. Plans call for the dealership to be relocated to Racetrack Road.

He describes his father as "very energetic," the exact words of Falconi's secretary, Cheryl Racioppi.

"His work, that's his life," the younger Falconi said. "But it's not work to him."

"He's fun to work for," Racioppi said. "He's amazing -- he's like a whirlwind."

In the early 1960s, Falconi had a vision that the shopping mall was a concept that would become popular. There were only two other malls in the region when he and his partners built Washington Mall in 1965.

He had been nominated for the Washington & Jefferson College Entrepreneur of the Year Award. However, modesty and apprehension over public speaking lead Falconi to "respectfully decline" the honor.

In 1959, Falconi and two partners developed MAC Plastics, a 550,000-square-foot building on 30 acres. The "A" in MAC stands for Angelo. In 1979, they sold the plant, but when it began faltering in the mid 1990s, local officials and workers looked to Falconi.

"They were losing their cars, their homes," Falconi said of workers who approached him.

"He literally saved those jobs by his willingness to take a risk," Trich said.

Falconi has poured $12 million into the plant, renamed Falcon Plastics Inc., which remains in the red. "We're losing money," Falconi said of the plant. "We hope to make a profit next year."

He expanded the company's product line, cut out middlemen by purchasing his own distributorship and has made significant advances with new equipment.

"We're interested in making a lot of jobs," he said. "We'll do everything to make that plant work."

The plant employs about 250, but Falconi hopes to double that number in the coming years.

When he was formulating a bailout plan for the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team in 1999, Mario Lemieux met Falconi through a friend. The bankrupt franchise was in serious danger of being moved to another city, when Falconi -- one of 12 investors lined up by Lemieux -- forked over about $2 million toward a $51 million buyout deal.

"He's a great person, he's very generous, and he's got a great heart," Lemieux said.

When Lemieux contacted him, Falconi was willing to help and "wanted to do what he could to keep the team in Pittsburgh," Lemieux said. Dealing with associates such as Falconi "opens up a lot of doors for us."

Falconi has given "well over $1 million" in cash and property to countless organizations and causes, Morascyzk said, including college scholarships and property in Canonsburg for a youth baseball facility, also called Falconi Field. And Falconi is developing the Falconi Foundation to centralize his charitable efforts.

"Angelo has never forgotten where he came from," Washington County Commissioners Chairman John Bevec said. "He always comes through for us."

Falconi said he will not be retiring anytime soon. He plans to continue his work, as always, behind the scenes. As Morascyzk puts it: "What Angelo does best is negotiate the deal."

But what do young people need to make it in today's business world?

"Work hard," he advises. "You can't make it in eight hours."

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