By Mike Sullivan
Sunday Herald, Sunday, March 13, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Sunday Herald and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Amy Root-Donle]
The year was 1993, and Nicholas Riccio was out for a drive with his now late mother, Marilyn. They were living in Massachusetts at the time and to this day Riccio doesn't know why the leisurely drive took them to Hampton Beach.
As the mother and son traveled through the area, they happened upon M Street.
What they saw was a mess. Many of the buildings were condemned and those that weren't looked to be well on their way.
But for some reason, Riccio had a vision. Maybe it was the real estate courses he had taken over the past few years or all the motivational business books he had been reading.
Maybe it was fate.
Regardless, Riccio wanted to buy all of the buildings, but didn't have the financial means to do so. Still, he told his mother of his plans. He started by buying one of the buildings, and even that was a stretch as he had no money to put down.
Twelve years later, Riccio lives on the street and owns 15 of the buildings, which include 70 living units. The buildings he owns have a drastically different look to them as well, as Riccio has done extensive renovations or is in the process of doing so. There are 21 other buildings on the street, and Riccio has every intention of eventually buying and renovating them all.
The rest, one might say, is history in the making.
Pursuing a dream
"Nick" Riccio's story is so unlikely, so rags-to-riches, so made for TV, it's almost cliché.
The 40-year-old Hampton resident has in the past 20 years gone from living on the streets, not knowing where or when his next meal would be, to managing his own multimillion-dollar real estate business, Riccio Enterprises LLC.
Aside from the buildings at Hampton Beach, he owns properties from Boston to the White Mountains.
As his real estate business has blossomed, Riccio has begun to incorporate his love of sports into his corporate scheme.
A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, the upstairs of Riccio's home is a virtual museum featuring everything from Muhammad Ali-signed boxing gloves to autographed photos of Larry Bird.
But being merely a fan isn't enough for Riccio. He wants to own a team. And as Riccio will be the first to tell you, when he sets his sights on something, he is undeterred in achieving it.
"My work in real estate has helped facilitate my dream of owning a professional sports team," Riccio said. "And that will happen one day in the near future."
As he takes what he sees as the next step in his personal and professional progression, Riccio is determined to continue the progress he has made in the Hampton Beach community.
Beginning when he purchased that first building on M Street in 1993, Riccio steadily has begun to change the landscape of the neighborhoods at Hampton Beach, some of which have a reputation for criminal activity, loud parties and, well, you get the point.
Hampton Police Chief William Wrenn has noticed Riccio's efforts to clean up M Street and beyond.
"I think Nick is certainly trying to change the whole image down there," Wrenn said of M Street and the surrounding area. "It's an area we have had many difficulties with through the years."
Wrenn said in years past many of the homes on M Street were in such bad shape, the only renters coming in were kids.
Teens renting houses on the beach in the summer? It's no secret what often happens next. Let the illicit games begin.
"But Nick is renovating buildings to a point where families will be interested in coming in," Wrenn said. "His properties are clean, they have new appliances and many nice renovations. He really is trying to change the image."
Wrenn said there are still problems with some houses on the street, but said he knows Riccio is looking to purchase those properties.
"Nick has done a good job of getting good, respectable people to rent from him, and that's all we can hope for down in this area."
Riccio keeps a scrapbook filled with old newspaper articles featuring occurrences on M Street over the years, most of which reported the type of things you don't want happening on your street.
He uses the scrapbook as motivation, and often looks through it to remind him of the task that, in many ways, still lies ahead.
"It's in a transit stage today," he said. "Forty years of prior history can't change in two years. But I've got more family rentals coming in this summer than I've ever had before. I will keep the faith, build the apartments up and change things little by little."
Many of his rental properties are listed on his Web site, www.hamptonbeachrentalsusa.com.
Riccio knows buying a professional sports franchise is a bigger financial move than buying a house on M Street in Hampton, and yet he is just as confident pursuing either transaction.
He is unmistakably confident, and yet he carefully calculates each move his makes.
Riccio attended college at Plymouth State University, but he has also managed to gain quite a bit of free education for himself.
Ever heard the phrase, "You don't know until you ask?" Well, Riccio applies it to some of the biggest names in professional sports ownership.
He has sought advice and corresponded, oftentimes in person, with Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo and Lowell Spinners and New Hampshire Fisher Cats owner Drew Webber, among others.
"I feel blessed," Riccio said. "The evolution of everyone I've met with, all their knowledge from their experiences, I can learn over a cup of coffee."
But President George W. Bush might be the biggest name he has talked sports ownership with.
[Photo by Amy Root-Donle]
When Bush flew into Pease International Tradeport on last month Riccio was there. But he wasn't there just to listen to Bush's take on the status and future of Social Security.
Riccio wanted to talk baseball with the president.
Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, obliged. Riccio, seated in the front row near Sens. John Sununu and Judd Gregg, spoke with Bush for three to four minutes.
They talked baseball ownership and the experience affected Riccio profoundly.
And he is convinced that, perhaps after Bush's current term is up, he again will talk baseball with the president, only then Riccio said, he will be an owner.
Riccio also has been influenced by such people as renowned motivational speaker and television/radio personality Earl Nightengale, whose phrase, "You become what you think about," is Riccio's personal motto.
But above all else, Riccio is influenced most by his mother, Marilyn. She always wanted better for him than she was able to provide, he says, and to this day, even though she died of cancer at age 60 in 1997, he still works to honor her memory.
Honoring his mother's memory doesn't mean living in the past, though. The past isn't a place where Riccio likes to spend much time.
His home life never was stable as a child. He is one of four children by Marilyn and his father, Anthony, who also died of cancer at 60, in 2002.
He was poor and his parents divorced when Riccio was young. He moved around a lot before graduating from Alvirne High School in Hudson in 1983.
But by the age of 18, Riccio was living on the streets.
"When I was 19 or 20, I would call my buddies to go over their houses to watch a game just so I could take a shower," he said.
Because of a turbulent childhood, Riccio was prepared for the rigors of college, which included paying his own way at Plymouth State and often sleeping in his car because he couldn't afford to pay rent.
Once he was out of college, he took a real estate course in 1990. He began borrowing money, sometimes at interest rates ranging from 50 to 100 percent. Some would call that insanity, but Riccio was confident he eventually could pay it back without problems.
And he has.
Riccio was stocking shelves at Purity Supreme grocery stores in Massachusetts when he took that first drive to Hampton Beach with his mother 12 years ago.
Not long after that, he stocked his last shelf.
Based on his history, when Riccio says he will own a professional sports team, it's difficult to doubt him.