Belli Architectural Group Inc., Salinas, CA
Background: Like the majority of people he works with in the agricultural business, architect Lino Belli was attracted to his career through his father. “My father grew up in the Mission District of Salinas, became an architect and started his career in this community in 1951,” he said.
Among the buildings Raymond Belli was involved in was the Bud of California facility in Marina that now wears the Dole label. Lino Belli said early in his father’s career there wasn’t much ag work as most companies were working out of old packing sheds and saw no need to upgrade. “In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there was a lot more ag construction and he ended up doing a lot more ag work in the later years of his career.”
A PATH TO ARCHITECTURE: Though Lino grew up the son of an architect and has adopted that career, that was not always the plan. “I went down to Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) to study electronics. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I had been there awhile that I switched to architecture.”
But switch he did and upon graduation, he did join his father’s architectural firm in 1982. “I stayed there through his retirement in 1993 and the following year I started my own firm.”
AG WORK IS A NATURAL: With agriculture being the top business in Salinas, it’s hard to be in any career in the community without being involved in agriculture. Lino’s ag roots actually date back to his childhood. His mother’s side of the family owned a dairy ranch in the Mission District. In fact, his relatives still own the land which is now leased out and farmed. “When I was growing up, I got a lot of experience working in the fields. I worked for a number of different growers over the years weeding and doing other field jobs.”
He started his architectural career working on the project to reconstruct the Shippers Development Company land, converting it from old packing sheds and an ice house to newer projects. Today New Star and American Cooling sit on that land. Like his father, Lino said his architectural career has been founded on the principal of helping people solve problems. “We aren’t in it to build beautiful buildings but rather to help people build what they need to build to do the job.”
Converting old ice houses and other aging facilities into modern cooling and processing facilities has been a mainstay of Belli’s work over the years.
AG ARCHITECTURE – A CYCLICAL BUSINESS: Ag architecture, like agriculture itself, is cyclical. Outside influences impact how well the business is doing. “When the cold chain issues were becoming very important in the late ‘90s we had a lot of work enclosing docks,” he said. “It was a little bit slow in the early 2000s, but then when food safety concerns started to surface we got busy again.” The firm currently consists of five architects and two support staff. It was a bit larger before the recession but is now in growth mode once again.
DIVERSIFIED COMPANY: While agricultural work makes up about 70 percent of what the Belli Group does, “being in a small community we do a little bit of everything,” Lino said.
The company has worked on projects involving schools and commercial buildings and has done several sports complex projects including the softball facilities for the American Rodeo Association as well as the new football stadium being built for two local high school teams.
WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: The firm joined Western Growers several years ago and Lino and his wife, Teri, have come to each of the last five annual meetings. “We originally joined out of respect for our customers and came to the meetings as networking opportunities,” he said. “But the last several years the program has been outstanding and now we look forward to attending those business sessions.”
ON THE PERSONAL FRONT: In their spare time, Lino and Teri enjoy ambitious hikes. Last fall they took a nine-day trek in the Swiss Alps which culminated at the Matterhorn. They have three children all of whom are in or just out of college and none have yet shown an interest in agricultural architecture but who knows what the future will hold.
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