In 1937, the lenders at the Bowery Savings Bank realized they had a problem. A common saying among the bank’s staff at the time was, “Why would criminals rob a bank when they could just walk in with a roll of plans and the bank would give them the money?” To solve the problem of the lack of scrutiny over construction loans, the bankers suggested that John Merritt and his son in-law, Elliott Harris II, form a company that could watch over the construction loans that the bank was funding. The men heeded the suggestion, and Mr. Merritt and Mr. Harris began a firm that is believed to be the first company formed solely for the purpose of monitoring construction loans, whereby the Construction Monitoring Group was established.
Elliott Harris’ son, Elliott Harris III, affectionately known to all as Buzz, joined his family’s firm as a project manager in 1971 and began his lengthy stint as its President & CEO in 1978.
In the late 1970s, lenders and institutional investors realized the need for professional evaluations to be performed on the existing buildings they were contemplating purchasing. As a result, Merritt & Harris, formed a dedicated Property Condition Assessment (PCA) Group.
In 1991 the firm opened its first branch office in Glendale, California.
In 1993, the firm began monitoring the construction of a string of sports facilities for lenders, sports authorities, teams and bondholders, starting with the construction of Boston’s Fleet Center (now TD Garden). Due to the influx of sports facility work, the firm subsequently established the M&H Sports Group which has reviewed and monitored close to 50 professional team stadiums, arenas, ballparks and racetracks.
In 1996, Buzz sold his majority stake to Tom Richard, Bill Doody, Manny Kratsios, Jack Kagan, Bruce Peterson, Neil Rowland and Bob Weiland. The new Principals selected Richard, who had been the Senior Vice President of the firm’s PCA Group, to become the President & CEO.
In 1997, the firm then opened its second branch office in Deerfield Beach, Florida. That same year, Mike Dwyer, leader of its Plan & Cost Group, became a Principal. Ricardo Flores, the company’s Los Angeles Branch Manager, became a Principal in 2003.
In 2010, a planned succession was executed to allow Tom Richard to semi-retire. Manny Kratsios, a Columbia University educated Civil Engineer with an MBA, who had previously served as the COO, was promoted to President & CEO.
On January 27, 2011, members of the firm were saddened to learn of the death of their former president, Elliott “Buzz” Harris, who died of cancer at the age of 65. It was Buzz’ talent for encouraging the employees to strive for excellence and his success in establishing a sense of family among them that continues to define the firm’s character. In 2015, the tenure of employees at Merritt & Harris, averaged 12.5 years, with 40% having more than 20 years of service. This is a testimony to the company’s ability to attract and retain people who cherish the values that Buzz established and that the current leadership team has embraced.
In 2015, James Cockinos, AIA, head of the Construction Monitoring Group, and Ed Bellavigna, AIA, head of the PCA Group, were both promoted to Principals of the firm.
Today, Merritt and Harris has continued this tradition of excellence, expanding globally with their Latin America Group, providing best-in-class review and construction monitoring services to U.S.-based lenders in Spanish-speaking countries and their Caribbean Group, ensuring positive critical outcomes for the real estate and investment community in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. They have also grown nationally, establishing the M&H Workout Group, assisting lenders and real estate investors with distressed properties.