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Life at the intersection of public-private partnerships, neighborhood regeneration and real estate development.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Entrepreneur's Thoughts #275

Take "NO" as a "Maybe If." Take "Maybe" as a "Yes When You." A "Yes" means it's Closing Time. 

However, an "I Don't Know" is a call to action.  What's the hesitation?

Is it your brand? 

Is it what you're offering? 

Or is it you?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are Your RFPs Working For You?

Hellooo Detroiters, PPPers, and those of you who are NOT one of the more than 2 million people who "liked" Kanye and Kim's wedding kiss on Instagram!

Uh huh, honey 

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Are Your RFPs Working For You?

How many staff hours have you wasted on ineffective RFPs and inefficient RFP processes?

How many dollars have you lost on lawyers negotiating PPP deals based on bad RFP structures?

How many political headaches have you had because your RFPs (or RFP processes) are indefensible, unpredictable or just incoherent?

Do you know why your RFPs aren't working for you?  It's time to fix your RFPs now!

I have so much to say on this topic, I'm going to make this a three-part blog series.  In the tradition of those "Eat This, Not That!" segments, I'll call this segment of the blog series:

Do This, Not That!

*Do This:  Only ask for things you need to efficiently make a decision, or to get down to a short-list.

*Not That!   Ask for every single piece of information from every single bidder all at the beginning.  

Snarky Sidenote:  Do you really need ten hard copies? Why do you need my fax number?  What is this, 1987?

You keep it up, and I'm going to send my proposal in on microfiche.
Specific Advice:  Strongly consider (particularly in real estate development procurements) distributing a "Modified RFQ" as a precursor to a full-blown RFP.  The Modified RFQ process has two stages: 1) A qualifications stage where you analyze bidders on key qualifications only, and then 2) A second stage where you go through a more detailed analysis and request more extensive information.   You can "modify" the RFQ by requesting information in the first stage on any "deal breaker" factors that might usually be reserved for the second stage.  These deal breakers usually don't directly relate to the "experience" of the bidder, but are factors that would rule a bidder out for further consideration if the bidder's response doesn't meet a certain minimum standard of quality. So for example, you could ask for a detailed community engagement strategy as part of a modified RFQ, because if the bidder doesn't appear to be able to handle the particular community involved, you know that they (and you) are dead in the water.  Or you might request from bidders in the first stage their key team members' financials, letters of credit and financial partner information because you know that there's no deal if they don't have the dough.

Benefits of the Modified RFQ Approach:  The Modified RFQ allows you to first weed out bidders based mostly on their experience, financial capacity and analogous project qualifications.  This weeding out process occurs prior to reviewing detailed financial proformas, elaborate site and building designs and complex deal structures.  This approach saves you time and money from reviewing tons of submission materials from bidders you know aren't going to win, but who submit anyway. It is also fairer to the bidders themselves, who spend thousands of dollars on bids where they didn't really have a chance.  Finally, the second stage (where you request more detailed information from a small number of short-listed bidders) allows you to do a deeper dive with teams you know could win and therefore allows you to get better information that will lead to a better selection. 

*Do This:  Your scoring criteria and scoring allocations accurately reflect your project goals and priorities and the key factors which will cause you to choose one bidder over another. 

*Not That! The scoring criteria or weightings of each scoring factor have no coherent relationship to your stated goals on the project, or any alignment with your priorities when selecting between bidders. 


Snarky Sidenote:  Why do you keep asking for the "percentage of time each of your personnel will spend on the project"?  My answer doesn't seem to be that important because the scoring criteria includes no mention of personnel time.  Moreover, it's an 18-month long project that probably won't begin until 3-4 months after I put in my submission.  You realize you are forcing me to make something up right?  My ability to know how much time my team will spend, per person, on the project over the next 18 months, is as high as my percentage chance of predicting what Tyrion Lannister will do next to avoid death on Game of Thrones...

I'm going to try this in my next shortlist interview.
Specific Advice: It's worth saying again:  Your scoring criteria and scoring allocations must accurately reflect your project goals and priorities and the key factors which will cause you to choose one bidder over another.  Don't use the same criteria and weightings for every project.  Understand the priorities of the decision-makers on the procurement, and make sure the criteria reflect those priorities.  The worst thing is when a selection panel makes a recommendation to a decision-maker and the decision-maker wonders how they got there.

Benefits of Aligning Your Scoring With Your Goals:  Strategically selected criteria and weightings signal to your most coveted bidders that you want them to bid, and signals to folks who just routinely bid on everything that they don't have a chance.  Small firms clearly know whether they have a shot to win a project as the lead - bigger boys with "marketing coordinators" and single purpose "proposal writers" think twice about putting in a bid "just to see."  Alignment saves you time and gets you more worthy applicants.  If you want an efficient, effective, and defensible RFP process, your scoring, criteria and goals all have to be aligned.  If they aren't aligned your RFP and RFP process will suck -- just like that market study you just bought sucks.

*Do This:  Include a clear, concise and budget-realistic Scope and Deliverables in your RFP.

*Not That!  You're fishing.  You really don't know what you want -- or need -- so your Scope asks for the kitchen sink, it doesn't reflect your budgeting realities, and it's hard to decipher for bidder budgeting purposes.

Specific Advice:  Use pre-solicitation focus groups to better pinpoint your scope and which deliverables will fulfill your objectives.  Invite bidders in the applicable industry to share their thoughts on current best practices, the newest innovations and practical considerations.  Leverage their thoughts to write a more focused RFP.  Get their advice on how to get the best level of response from the most competent selection of bidders.  If a big priority is the participation of local, small or minority businesses, talk to these groups prior to sending out your RFPs as well.  Ask them what would induce a better response rate from more qualified firms within their group.  Lastly, I would advise that you only request a full budget from short-listed bidders, rather than from all applicants.  Why skim 10 budgets on the front-end when you could do a deep-dive on only 3 from firms you might actually choose?
Benefits of Not Fishing:  Value their time, and they'll value yours. Fishing expeditions get fishermen. We know when you don't know what you want.  We can see a champagne scope with a beer budget a mile away.  The best of us will not respond, the savvy among of us may put in a half-hearted effort, and the worst among us will leverage the lack of clarity to overpromise and underdeliver. 

So...those are my initial thoughts on why your RFPs aren't working for you. 
  
Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!  PPPers, do you have suggestions on how government and philanthropic organizations can improve their RFPs? Put them in the comments!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Catalysts, Bridges and Drivers: Sorry, the Market Study You Paid For Sucks

Helloooo Detroiters, PPPers and those of you who are counting the days to the next episode of Game of Thrones!
Will Khaleesi be able to handle her dragons?
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Catalysts, Bridges and Drivers:  The Market Study You Paid For Sucks
Raise your hand if you've ever paid for a market study that sucks.  (I'd raise mine but I'm typing right now).  "Sucks,” by the way, is a technical term.  "Sucks" means that the study didn't give you information useful to changing the trajectory of the area. Urban areas need market studies that do more than just study the market.  In Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis and Southeast DC, projections based solely on data aren’t enough to help regenerate their neighborhoods.  Generic market studies will have no effect.  Those market studies, in a word, suck. 

Luckily, you don’t have to accept sucky market studies any longer.  The three things your market study needs to assess to be useful:

1) Catalysts,
2) Bridges, and 
3) Drivers 

CATALYSTS.  How do we start moving in the right direction?  Your market studies need to look for opportunities to spark change, not just diagnose the ills that you already knew were preventing progress.  Catalysts inch the neighborhood forward.  They are often authentic to the neighborhood and ride on the backs of history.  Does your neighborhood have a history of music, art or culture that could be leveraged to spark change?  Is there a site where someone could take a stand, make an investment, and it would spark others to invest? It could be as small as a community garden, or the re-painting all of the houses on a block. 


In Detroit, Tyree Guton's Heidelberg project went beyond painting just the houses, and made everything art!
BRIDGES.  How in the world do we get from here, to there?  Bridges deal with the reality that long-term urban disinvestment prevents instant revitalization. You want a market study that identifies the investments, activities and resources needed to bridge the time between your area’s recent past and its long-term future.  For example, bridges can be major investments like government-led transportation infrastructure that accelerate a moving market.  The big boy developers and seasoned retailers who invest large amounts of capital come to an area when they see bridges not catalysts.  Catalysts are the spark for the fire, but the bridges are the accelerant to the flames.

Streetcar on H St. in DC was really a bridge, not a catalyst, to the overall change in the area.  The clustered redevelopment of vacant storefronts into bars, and the rehab of rowhouses nearby, were the real first catalysts for change.
DRIVERS.  What will keep the new momentum going?  Drivers are the actions and investments that solidify the long-term upward trajectory and stability of the area.  When a government helps a developer build a mixed-use, transit-oriented development that wouldn’t otherwise happen- that’s an investment in drivers. When a private company decides to move to an urban area, build things there and bring new jobs? That’s a focus on drivers.  When a philanthropic organization & non-profits fund a groundbreaking plan to understand what are the best employment and land use strategies for Detroit’s future? That’s a push to identify drivers.  Notice that all of the 5 Ps are involved in drivers - the Public, Private, Philanthropic and non-Profit sectors - and the People!  P5s, as we've discussed before, are the wave of the future beyond P3s.

Kresge Foundation's Future City framework focuses on drivers
What’s the difference between catalysts, bridges and drivers in a nutshell?  Catalysts get people to visit a city, bridges get people to move there, and drivers get people to stay there, build a career and raise a family.

Our urban neighborhoods don’t need market studies that just point out our uphill battles.  They need studies that get our neighborhoods going up the hill!  Authentic catalysts.  True bridges.  And sustainable drivers.  That’s what your market study in an urban area should be assessing. 

If it didn’t, or it won’t, then the market study you paid for sucks. 

-- Calvin 


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gumbo vs. a Salad: Multi-Disciplinary vs. Inter-Disciplinary Neighborhood Planning

Helloooo Detroiters, PPPers and those of you who...can't pronounce Grammy Album of the Year nominee Sara Bareilles' last name...

Sara B couldn't beat out Daft Punk for Album of the Year!
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Gumbo vs. a Salad:  Multi-Disciplinary vs. Inter-Disciplinary Neighborhood Planning
Maybe its the creative placemaking project I'm working on in Baton Rouge.  Maybe I'm just hungry.

But a food comparison came to me when I was thinking about why some urban regeneration plans become dusty reports on a shelf whereas others are implemented and revitalize a neighborhood:

It's the difference between gumbo and a salad. 

Let's start with the humble salad first. 

Salads are great!  You get a whole lot of ingredients in one bowl, the flavors are multidimensional, and there's usually some thought put into making sure a diversity of ingredients are represented.  All of the ingredients are in the same bowl, but they don't really mix.  They just sorta sit there next to each other. Planning teams working on urban neighborhood revitalization efforts are often like salads -- lots of ingredients but the ingredients don't really mix.  The overall team is usually made up of multiple consulting firms specializing in certain disciplines -- a planning and urban design firm, a real estate analysis firm, an outreach firm and then maybe a traffic, engineering or landscape architecture firm or two thrown into the mix.

Just like salads, however, these disciplines spend most of their time during the planning process like the ingredients in a salad, in separate places until they end up in the same bowl, touching but not really mixing.  Are there internal team meetings?  Sure.  But most of the analysis and thinking is done separately.  

Public meetings end up being similar to the moment when all of the salad's ingredients are put in the same bowl.  Just before the public meeting all of the various siloed disciplines pigeonhole their separately-created thoughts into a public PowerPoint presentation. 


There are 320 slides because the answers come from 320 different silos...
Voila! A salad (uh, a plan) is born!  But the salad approach is multi-disciplinary, where all of the various disciplines do their own thing and then they go sit in the same report and PowerPoint at the end.

What I'm advocating for is a more gumbo-like approach to neighborhood revitalization:


Gumbo.  Yum!!
In gumbo, everything is mixed in.  The ingredients spend time mixing, marinating, integrating, and becoming something more than the non-touching sum of their parts.  This mixing is part of the process (and part of the point) from the very beginning.  The answer to your hunger is integrated.  

Gumbo is INTER-disciplinary. And so should be your urban revitalization efforts.   

Your communities and their challenges require integrated thinking from the top, at the beginning and as part of every solution in the end.  For example, the obstacles you face bringing vibrant retail to your commercial corridor need integrated thinking.  The transportation and traffic issues are NOT separate from the small business retail issues, which are not separate from the poor pedestrian experience.

The retail underperforms on your urban corridor because of an integrated set of issues. 

New housing isn't being built because of an integrated set of challenges.

The catalyst for the regeneration of your urban neighborhood will be inter-disciplinary not multi-disciplinary.

Are you hiring a Team with a Salad approach to solve a Gumbo Problem?

 -- Calvin

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

How to Implement an Economic Development Strategy

Helllooooo Detroiters, PPPers and those of you are still recovering from the Polar Vortex!!

That shi cray.  The real question is:  Dude, why the hell were you outside?
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How to Implement an Economic Development Strategy

It always surprises me how complicated we can make things.  The creation and implementation of an economic development strategy for a city, district or neighborhood is no exception.  So in my continuing quest to simplify, well, everything to do with the urban regeneration, here's my 3-point blueprint for implementing an economic development strategy:
  1. Have one.
  2. Integrate it.
  3. Have a leader.
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  • #1: Have one.  You’d be surprised how many jurisdictions think they have an economic development strategy but don’t.   For starters,
o   A tagline is not an economic development strategy.  
Not only is this NOT an economic development strategy, it's a bad tagline!
 
o   A strategy to fund a series of unconnected real estate development projects is not an economic development strategy.   Many cities learned this once the real estate boom ended. 
Don't end up with lots of new buildings, but no new jobs for your residents.
  • #2: Integrate it.  Ultimately, we pursue great economic development outcomes to bring residents a better quality of life.  Quality of life is not a siloed outcome – there are a wide range of components that contribute to an improved quality of life. 
    • But governments are often organized where economic development is in a silo – the staffers working on real estate development are separated from the economic development staff (and sometimes look down on them), those gals are all separate from the planners (yes, great planning is important to improved economic development), and each of those folks don’t work directly with the workforce development people, city tourism people or housing staff!  
    • Consultants and planners working on neighborhood regeneration projects are not immune to this problem – how many firms do you know that understand planning, real estate development, and economic development, from each of the governmental, community and private sector perspectives? (Actually, I can think of at least one…)
These silos – and siloed thinking from one-trick pony consultants – prevent the entire economic development band from marching to the same music.   All of the activities that affect neighborhoods, cities and economic development -- housing, real estate development, planning, workforce development, economic development, tourism, public safety -- must be synchronized so that they all are trying to lead to the same economic development outcomes.  Which brings me to my third and final directive for implementing an economic development strategy…

  • #3: Have a Leader.  Cities and neighborhoods must have an organizational play book for their economic development activities.  It’s important to have one agency or organization that is leading, prioritizing and synchronizing all activities that affect economic development.  Once you have a leader, you can designate the various roles of the other economic development “players” in the City.   Otherwise you end up with “Who’s on First?” bottlenecks and roadblocks that do not best serve residents or the people working to help them.  These inefficiencies do not happen by accident – the organizational bottlenecks can often be the result of personal beefs and power grabs rather than the creation of the most effective structure. 
It's time for some traffic problems in the Planning Department.
The leading organization doesn’t have to do everything – it must only be responsible for making sure that all activities affecting economic development reflect the same priorities.  Information about current and planned investments, activities, and resource allocation must be shared, most activities coordinated and all goals prioritized in the aggregate.  The leading organization should be the one with the best level of experience, capacity, legal authority and political will to effectively achieve positive economic development outcomes.   

In a bigger city the leading organization might be the Mayor’s office or a City department, but in a smaller city (or a city with constrained resources) the lead economic development role might be held by a variety of possible players.  The lead role could be taken by a local non-profit, a local merchants association, or one passionate business owner.  The lead role might be taken a high-capacity Community Development Corporation or a business improvement district.  There’s no one right answer to who should be the economic development lead, but there must be a clearly defined leader!

Simple right?  The way to implement an economic development strategy is to Create, Integrate and Lead one.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  

-- Calvin

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Monday, December 23, 2013

My Three Favorite Detroit Blog Posts and Detroit Pictures

Detroit has had a challenging year, to say the least.

But Detroiters (and Detroit) hustle harder, and there are lots of positive things happening.  In the spirit of this holiday season and all that is good and upbeat in Detroit, find below a compendium of positive blog posts I've written about Detroit, and pictures I've taken in Detroit this year.

Enjoy!

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Blog Post: This is Also Detroit (Written after spending a week in Detroit in January 2011)

Blog Post: On Detroit:  My Shortest Blog Post Ever (Written the day Detroit declared bankruptcy) 

Blog Post:  My City is Not a Laboratory (Written after a conference in Detroit where a bunch of planners said that "Detroit should be our laboratory").

Detroit is Entrepreneurship...

Audrey and Kay-- Entrepreneurs in their Pop-Up Store "Art in Motion" on Livernois in Detroit

Yvette - Entrepreneur in her Pop-Up Store "Love Travels Imports" on Livernois in Detroit

April - Entrepreneur in her Pop-Up Store "Good Cakes and Bakes" on Livernois in Detroit
Detroit is Fun...
Creative Placemaking: A Beach in a Downtown park in Detroit Summer 2013



Cold Weather Creative Placemaking:  An Ice Skating Rink in Downtown Detroit Winter 2013
Detroit Can't be Stopped!
 
See you in the D next year!

-- Calvin

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Transportation IS Placemaking (Are you Hiring Quarterbacks or Wide Receivers?)


Hellooo Detroiters, PPP'ers and those of you who want every airline to be like WestJet and give each passenger the holiday gift they asked for when they boarded!

One guy asked for a 50' inch flat screen TV, and got his wish!
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Transportation IS Placemaking (Subtitled:  Are you hiring quarterbacks or wide receivers?)

From the way transportation infrastructure projects get run, you'd think multi-modal transportation decisions have nothing to do with placemaking.  The choice of street for your streetcar, the location of the lane for your bike lane -- all of these decisions create and alter places, and therefore...

Transportation IS Placemaking.  

Unfortunately, if you think about how these projects (streetcar, bike lines, light rail etc) are organized, the transportation and transit infrastructure alternatives are described and analyzed separately.    The lead consultant is almost always an engineering or transportation infrastructure firm, and they are not placemakers.  Hell, they are mostly not planners either. The smarter engineering firms add a planning firm to their team and then stick them in a corner to plan, sort of like that salad dressing that comes in a separate pouch with your salad.

We'll just pour the urban design on the top of our transportation choices
The planning is siloed.
What's worse is that planning is not placemaking.  You can get the "urban design" right but if the placemaking is wrong, you're still toast.  There are a whole lot of well-designed places that are sterile or go unused.  Did they get the programming right?  Does the place work for the user, and not just the person who looks at it?

However, the siloed nature of the planning team member in transportation projects hides a larger problem.  The hidden larger problem is that the interdisciplinary, place-based, market-appropriate and people-centric process known as placemaking -- see my own definition of placemaking here -- is usually not discussed at all.  The economic development ramifications of transportation choices are often ignored as well. 
I'm over here thinking about placemaking and economic development.  I wonder what the transportation guys are up to?
Most of the discussion in the transportation analysis is about engineering feasibility, traffic ramifications, and mobility outcomes.  Can we get people where they want to go as fast as we want them to get there?  The transportation concerns are well-represented.

But what about the places? 

Who's representing the place that is created or altered when you put a light rail line on my street?

Who's analyzing the effects on retail of putting streetcar on one side of the block versus the other?

Who's assessing the potential damage (or possible improvement) to the vibrancy of the place?

Who's doing a specific analysis of each line or lane, each stop or station, to understand and then shape the placemaking outcomes

These are not planning or transportation questions. 

All these reports, and no analysis of placemaking or economic development??
Transit-oriented placemaking (I just coined this term, you heard it here first!) is an interdisciplinary activity that cannot be divorced from market realities, community desires or potential economic development effects.   On the contrary, those issues should be front and center in the placemaking analysis - and therefore the transportation analysis -- not siloed sideshows left for the appendix of the final report. 

Transit-oriented placemaking should not be the province of just engineering firms or planning firms or passionate non-profits.  (Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are planners or passionate non-profit folks).  There are economic ramifications to these transit infrastructure (and therefore placemaking) decisions, and it's not just the ramifications for development.  How many struggling retail spaces do you know of near transit? A lot of retail struggles near transit because the transportation consultants neglected to think of themselves as placemakers and not just transportation providers.

I get off at this stop and I don't feel like shopping.
Transit-oriented placemaking is not just whether the real estate development looks nice next to the train stop.  Build a well-landscaped plaza next to transit and it doesn't mean they'll come.  And if they come they might not stay. 
 
HUD Plaza in DC:  Proximity to transit does not equal great placemaking
In my opinion the lead of the transit-oriented placemaking analysis should not be a planning or engineering firm but should be an interdisciplinary firm that fully understands markets, economic development, programming and people as well as planning principles (Does anyone here speak New Urbanism?). There definitely needs to be planning expertise and urban design capacity on the team, but that doesn't mean that expertise has to be the lead.

Planners and engineers should be catching the ball, not throwing it.

For transit-oriented placemaking you need a interdisciplinary Quarterback to call and run the play, not a star wide receiver who should be catching, but not throwing, the ball. 

Transportation IS placemaking.  But placemaking is not planning.  Be careful who you're hiring to analyze, plan and implement your multi-modal transportation projects. 

Are you hiring quarterbacks or wide receivers?

-- Calvin

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