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Close-up: Mark Payne

Swinerton Builders vice president maintains wonderment, passion for industry

One Saturday, when Mark Payne was about 11 or 12 years old and growing up in Ohio, his father -- a construction superintendent -- took Payne and his older brother to the site of a bridge being built under his father's supervision. The experience proved to be a catalyst for Payne's successful, lifelong career in the construction industry.

“We were able to watch them pour concrete with concrete pumps, concrete trucks. They had a big, long machine that leveled the concrete out on the bridge deck and it was just really something that, to me, was fascinating at the time,” said Payne, now vice president and division manager for the San Diego office of Swinerton Builders. “That's the first thing that really left a lasting impression on me -- just watching how hard these guys work and how good they were, and kind of what the finished product looked like on the bridge deck when they were done.”

Building bridges has become a metaphor for Payne's career. In order to build major, landmark projects throughout San Diego, Payne has built teams, relationships and goodwill.

“I love to build,” Payne said with the enthusiasm of a man working his first day on the job. “I love to be involved and just getting involved at the earliest stages of the projects, working hand in hand with the designers and all the design consultants, and being able to bring value to the team -- whether it's through construct-ability, or scheduling, or logistics -- or just bringing value through the design process and then being able to assemble teams that go out and build these construction projects. That's where it really drives me.”

Payne, his wife and three sons originally came to San Diego in 1989 and have lived in Poway ever since. For about seven years prior to relocating to San Diego, Payne worked in Phoenix for Sundt Construction. Sundt's merger with Ninteman Construction brought Payne here. He joined Swinerton in 1999.

“I basically have complete oversight and responsibility for (Swinerton's) San Diego division. We currently have about 95 salaried employees, we have another, probably, 50 craft workers, laborers and carpenters,” Payne said. “I have complete financial responsibility for the division, pretty much complete oversight of our group. This year, we're going to do roughly $160 million in volume. We're anticipating next year -- we just turned in our business plan -- and we're looking to do about $185 million in volume here in San Diego.”

Asking Payne to name his proudest construction accomplishment is akin to asking a prolific father to name his favorite child, but, after a thoughtful pause, Payne said, “There's no question the Omni Hotel and Metropolitan Condominiums was a landmark project for us. It was the largest project that we'd done at the time. It was $100 million-plus and we had to have it complete by opening day when the Padres opened in Petco Park (in 2004).”

In addition to the Omni Hotel, San Diego County is dotted with projects that have been built by Swinerton under Payne's leadership, including the Del Mar Marriott, various high-profile projects at Hotel Del Coronado, several high-rise residential multifamily projects downtown and a handful of major education facilities at UCSD.

“Being able to build teams and be involved in (all phases of the construction process) and see the great things we do, and drive through San Diego and point out the projects that we've built over the years to my family, or kids, or friends -- I take a lot of pride in that,” Payne said.

The construction industry was among the industries hardest hit by the economic downturn, but has been resurgent of late.

“I do see some good signs that probably started 12 to 18 months ago. We're seeing a little bit of a steady growth,” Payne said. “From the start of this year, we probably have brought on 20 new employees, salaried employees, into our group and we're probably looking to add the same number in 2015. So, we're definitely on a growth pattern.”

Indicative of that growth pattern has been a steady influx of new projects for Swinerton.

“We just received a notice to proceed last week on a downtown high-rise apartment, the Blue Sky apartment project, that is 23 stories. That's an $85 million project that we're going to be breaking ground on, hopefully next week,” Payne said. “We just finished the Mesa Community College Social and Behavioral Sciences project. That was a fairly major project. Right now, we're doing the second tower of a new hotel tower out at Viejas Casino. It's about a 130-room new hotel tower we're doing out there. We're actually working on preconstruction on a couple of other downtown high-rise projects, multifamily residential projects.”

Through it all, Payne hasn't lost the wonderment and passion for construction he discovered as a youth on that bridge in Ohio.

“My father was my mentor growing up and still is. I've been fortunate in my career. I've been given a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different positions, work on a lot of different projects,” Payne said. “I've been around a lot of really, really strong leaders that have helped me develop. It's been a great ride.”

-Lovitt is a La Jolla-based freelance writer.

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