Builder of Dreams

Anthony Diaco ’73

Anthony DiacoAnthony Diaco '73Along the Jersey City waterfront and across Hoboken, change seems constant, with new residential developments popping up and rising to the clouds. 

Iconic developments such as Hoboken’s W Hoboken hotel and the Shipyard residential development, former home of the Bethlehem Steel Company Shipyard, now occupy the sky. In hotspot Jersey City, exclusive addresses such as Harborside Urby, Grove Point East and many others dot a landscape once composed of industrial land and parking lots. Three gleaming white residential towers — one to rise some 70 stories, to become one of the tallest buildings in New Jersey – are ascending in Jersey City’s long-struggling Journal Square neighborhood. 

These and dozens of other multi-million-dollar residential projects over the years are the work of AJD Construction, founded and owned by Anthony J. Diaco ’73. Based in Leonardo, New Jersey, the company is a direct builder, employing 75 people. 

After launching AJD Construction in 1977 at age 25 — with a pick-up truck and a few small jobs — Diaco has built a construction empire, drawing on his smarts, an unflagging work ethic and an abiding passion for the work.  

 At last estimate, AJD Construction has completed or is in the process of completing approximately 33,000 residential units across New Jersey — about half of them in Jersey City and more than 5,000 in Hoboken.  

“If I didn’t do it, someone else would have,” says Diaco, simply. 

He sometimes drives around Jersey City while visiting a work site. “I built so many of these buildings,” he says. A project history list — which continues to grow even since the date of Mr. Diaco’s interview — shows 168 different residential developments. While many are high-end residential, the list also includes hotels and affordable and senior housing. 

On a recent winter morning, Diaco sat at his office desk surrounded by photographs of his grandchildren. He cherishes family life, with most of his children living nearby and family dinner at his home every Sunday. (He and one of his sons cook.) His family has also joined him in the business. 

Framed photographs of the company’s numerous, completed projects fill the office walls. One that may soon occupy a space is the ambitious development that will transform Journal Square in Jersey City. 

It is known as “Journal Squared 1,2 & 3,” behind the PATH train station. Three residential towers — 70, 60 and 54 stories — are rising in a neighborhood of long-neglected buildings. The development will include 1,800 units as well as retail and a traffic-free promenade stretching for blocks. But this is just one of his projects in Journal Square. The other, just blocks away, is 1 Journal Square, right in the heart of the neighborhood, with two residential towers to rise 66 stories each, with retail, transit connections and a public plaza. 

“They created a whole new neighborhood here,” he says. “What’s happened in the past five years is unbelievable.” 

His Jersey City and Hoboken projects are too numerous to list but stretch along the waterfront through downtown Jersey City and all across Hoboken. In nearby Fort Lee, New Jersey, two of his residential glass towers overlooking the George Washington Bridge are touchstones of this urban landscape. 

One memorable Hoboken job, he says, is 333 River Street, the 524-unit residential and commercial development along the Hoboken waterfront that he built while literally working against the tide of the Hudson River, water flowing in and out. 

Diaco’s path was marked by hard work from an early age. The youngest of 11 children — 10 boys, one girl — Diaco grew up in Newark, New Jersey, his father an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, and his mother first-generation from Naples. He started working at his brother’s electrical company after school when he was 13 and put in shifts at a local bakery, arriving at 2:30 a.m., from ages 15-17. 

His father, a construction laborer, was retired when Diaco entered Stevens, where he won a full scholarship. He was the baseball team’s starting catcher and the first in his family to graduate from college. 

After Stevens, Diaco worked as a surveyor and in construction before launching AJD Construction. He started small and then landed a big multi-use job in Dearborn, Michigan — a dental center for the Ford Motor Company — that sent him on his way. 

Diaco believes in nurturing talent, letting young employees learn in the field — not in the office — and allowing them to make mistakes. His advice to students and young alumni is direct. 

“Coming out of college, hopefully you have a little bit of a passion for something. If you have a passion for it, you will be good at it. If you’re going to take a job just to take a job, you’re probably going to hate getting up for work.”  

Diaco still arrives at work every morning at 6:30 a.m. He has no plans to retire and sees the future clearly. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Diaco says. “I think it’s working.”

– Beth Kissinger