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Top 5 tips for fast-track site development

A high-profile tenant with the potential of bringing 2,500+ jobs is interested in a facility somewhere in your county. The catch? Their new, very large facility must be designed, permitted, and built within 14 months, an extremely fast-track schedule. If this schedule can’t be met, the deal is off, and the tenant will go elsewhere. How do you make this work so the company and those jobs come to your county? These five tips can help.

  1. Complete Your Baseline Work Early. Early completion of baseline work (including geotechnical, traffic, survey, wetland, and cultural resource investigation) is essential to “jump start” the design process. As one of our land survey veterans puts it, “Release the survey early, as a part of the due diligence process, or immediately thereafter. The engineer’s hands are tied until the survey work is complete.” Any concerns about financial exposure in releasing that information needs to be considered in context with the overall risk management program for the project since these costs typically represent less than one percent of the total construction cost.
  2. Go with a One Size (Almost) Fits All Approach. Projects with established prototype building designs lend themselves very well to fast-track development. The prototype design can be adapted to the site early in the process, allowing everything else to be accelerated. One of our clients was able to use a prototype design - while completing the zoning ahead of time – to cut nine months off the schedule and attract a significant occupant in 240,000 square feet of space.
  3. Know Your Partners and Communicate! Strategic and established relationships with local, state, and federal agencies are critical to any successful project. Most owners/developers rely particularly on their civil engineers to push a project along due to their understanding of local conditions and requirements. A good rule of thumb is to have your engineer solicit initial input from the regulatory authorities via informal reviews, before formal submittals. This can be mutually beneficial, and gives the team a feel for potential issues, scheduling objectives, and anticipated requirements. Also, holding regular and frequent meetings makes important dialog and decision-making easy.
  4. Embrace – and Manage – Change. Although not ideal, a fast-track situation typically requires “locking in” a footprint and site plan very early, knowing or expecting there will be changes. The key is to manage the change process and not get caught off-guard when the architect moves a door, adds a service bay, or reconfigures a parking lot. It’s typical to have different versions of a site plan, particularly in the early phases. The civil engineer should submit these plans early to get the site permitting process started, acknowledging that further refinements will occur and must be documented. Even with the best intentions, not all revisions will be accomplished in the design process; expect them to continue into the construction phase. Changes will happen, but stay on top of them and manage the process!
  5. Make Decisions in Real Time. Establish a streamlined decision-making process and make sure you are focused on making timely project decisions. Hillsborough County, Florida, has established fast-tracking procedures for economic development projects, a very proactive and effective approach to project management. These methods ensure that County staff expedite reviews and enhance their communication of all site-related approvals.

Back to our opening scenario. This fast-track requirement was the case in Tampa Bay, and the project team made it work, following the tips above. The owner chose a consultant firm that they trusted and, working with the appropriate agencies, cut the design and permitting time in half. The design documents were high quality because the designers already had the benefit of client direction and agency input, well before plan submittal deadlines.

In the end, Tampa Bay is the proud home of the new Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Ruskin. The 1.1-million-sf facility opened last month after a tight, 13.5-month project schedule. The team’s ability to work together to secure this tenant will bring over 2,500 jobs to the local economy, a boost that could have been missed if the fast-track challenge wasn’t embraced.  

Dave Kemper is a senior principal in our Community Development team in Florida.

The original, full version of this article is in the current issue of Area Development magazine.

The key is to manage the change process and not get caught off-guard when the architect moves a door or adds a service bay.

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