Inside Former NFL First-Round Pick Gosder Cherilus’ Uphill Climb Into Commercial Real Estate

Breaking into Boston’s close-knit commercial real estate community is a huge task even for a local soccer hero.

Bisnow / Andrew Martinez

Gosder Cherilus in his Seaport office.

Retired NFL offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus is perhaps best known for his role on the Boston College breakout team in 2007 when the 6-foot-7, and then 316-pound tackle for star quarterback Matt Ryan was blocked. As a reference to his alma mater, he named his first development company Eagle Development Partners.

Today Cherilus and his new company are Bastion Cos. Joint venture partner in 10 World Trade, a 600,000 SF office and laboratory development project in Boston Seaport. Cherilus is acting as the project manager for the Boston Global Investors-led project.

Development, his first major joint venture, comes nearly a dozen years after he began considering real estate as a post-NFL investment and career opportunity.

Cherilus was born in Haiti, but his family immigrated to Boston and he went to Somerville High School, where he took summer jobs on construction sites. While there, he became interested in the industry and listened to workers talk about the value and scarcity of real estate.

After starting a BC record of 51 straight games – including all 13 for the 2007 team that finished the season # 10 in the country – the Detroit Lions drafted Cherilus 17th overall and signed one in 2008 Rookie contract for $ 15 million. Financial advisors came into Cherilus’ life when he was trying to invest his new money, but he said he did not know who to trust.

“One of the things I wanted to do was invest in real estate, buy houses, and develop relationships with banks,” a stripped down Cherilus said in his Seaport office this week. “[I thought]Hopefully by the time I retire these will be almost paid off and I can actually retire and start having some kind of cash flow and creating a working life for myself after football. “

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Gosder Cherilus with the Detroit Lions in 2011

Cherilus believed his first opportunity was when he wanted to buy a 20-unit home in Malden, a few miles from Somerville, his adopted home. Cherilus was determined to close, but realized late in the process that the property had previously been flooded and the deal failed. After that experience, Cherilus decided to start his own real estate company, Eagle Development Partners.

On the recommendation of industry colleagues, Cherilus decided to certify its company as a minority-owned business enterprise. He attended NAIOP workshops, learned about joint venture partnerships, and said he was inspired to think bigger and seek contracts with bigger industry players to help his company grow.

“We did this for about four or five years, but we didn’t get any jobs,” said Cherilus. “You know, it was just tough.”

He heard praise from potential partners about his pitches and his company, but was often turned down because of concerns about Eagle’s resume or simply lack of opportunities on projects, he said.

“I decided, guess what, I wouldn’t go on after some of those contracts,” said Cherilus. “I wanted to do what I know again, namely build smaller apartments between eight and 16 units.”

Meanwhile, Cherilus enjoyed a career as a steadfast offensive lineman. He played nine seasons in the NFL, blocking for some of the league’s top quarterbacks in the Lions Matthew Stafford and the Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck. After a stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he retired in 2017, then his real estate business picked up speed again.

Eagle began developing apartments in Allston, Brighton and Woburn and secured approval for a 269 market price parish in Quincy to be sold to Dolben Cos in 2018. was sold. The company was on the verge of partnering on an 87-acre project in Kennebunkport, Maine – which would have been Cherilus’ largest project to date – but it failed when his team disagreed with some aspects of the partnership, he said.

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Courtesy Boston Global Investors

A representation of 10 World Trade Boston, right, in the seaport.

Cherilus’ battle for great appeal wasn’t unique – minority-owned companies secured 1% of $ 2.1 billion in construction contracts and professional goods and services during Mayor Martin Walsh’s first term, a February report said revealed.

Cherilus sought mentors from prominent Black Boston developers such as Richard Taylor and the late Kenneth Guscott, a compatriot from the Caribbean. Cherilus said there was a healthy professional network of Caribbean people in Boston, including Haitians.

“When you talk about Haitians, you have some of the toughest, hardest-working people in the world,” he said. “It was just good to see that some of these opportunities are finally being offered to people who deserve them.”

He said his real estate allies came not from the NFL but from his BC alumni network. Playing for one of the best teams in school history helped with visibility, Cherilus said, and there weren’t many rooms where he didn’t step into a fellow Eagle.

Cherilus visited BC with John Hynes IV, son of Boston Global Investors CEO John Hynes III. It was Hynes IV selling Cherilus from the joint venture for 10 World Trade at a time when Cherilus said he was considering leaving the real estate and getting into coaching. Hynes IV did not respond to requests for comment this week.

BGI has also teamed up with the minority-owned Cogsville Group, and the Massachusetts Port Authority granted development rights to the group in 2018. The Boston Planning and Development Agency approved the project last August.

Cherilus acts as a project manager for diversity and inclusion efforts and has focused on working with minority owned supplier companies. He wants smaller MBEs like himself to get a foot in the door and grow like his own company did.

“If you show up with a joint venture contract or partnership, you bring a minority company with you,” Cherilus said in a message to the developers. “That way they can work with you, learn with you, learn from you, and they can get a little braver.”