Cities Must Own Their Development Process – Part 1

Posted by Rickey Hayes on February 17, 2010 in Blog | No Comments

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

I grew up in a community surrounded by crops and fields that depended on an agricultural economy. Anyone can plant a seed and rely on circumstance and Mother Nature to produce a harvest, but prudent farmers leave as little to chance as possible. If you want a sure harvest, the wise thing to do is build a greenhouse and create the optimal environment for growth and development.

In the retail world, wise cities are working to create that same “greenhouse environment” for their retail marketplace. As with farming, controlling as much of the process as possible will increase the odds of success. Ensuring the development process is as uncomplicated and trouble-free as possible is potentially worth millions of dollars to cities seeking retail investment. I am sure there are exceptions to this statement, but in almost every circumstance I have experienced in dozens of communities, it is my conviction that a city needs to be in control of its own economic development and retail recruiting efforts. Chambers of Commerce and other economic development organizations can help, but it is the city government that must control the process.

One key reason why the city must control the development process is because the city (or public trust empowered and managed by the municipality) controls public infrastructure including transportation, water, storm water, and sanitary sewer systems. Public infrastructure has a direct impact on development costs and timing, and ultimately the success or potential failure of a development deal may hinge on the public infrastructure. A proactive city looking to grow will maintain an infrastructure that can support growth and have a long-term plan for their future infrastructure.

Part of controlling the development process is anticipating problems and eliminating them before they become an issue. In this very competitive time, cities need to have as many of the potential development problems taken care of in advance as possible. Communities need to do everything in their power to make the development process as painless and efficient as possible. A rogue building inspector or fire marshal can impair development or delay it enough to actually kill a retail deal.

The typical development process including zoning, platting, and site plan review can move painfully slow in good economic times. The old adage “time is money” is true. Delays, unexpected fees, and arbitrary or changing requirements or standards can kill a potential deal just as quickly as financing issues or site problems. Government at all levels has the reputation for being slow and difficult, and communities need to examine their development processes and make absolutely sure any and every foreseeable problem is identified and remedied before the action begins. No reputable development group is going to try and get by codes, life safety issues, or development standards. But when a city is bureaucratic and unwilling to partner with a retailer or a development group to solve an issue or a think of a solution to the inevitable problems that arise in the complex world of retail development, even the easy deals can break down and progress slow to a crawl or stops completely.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.

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