Unlocking the Door to Success: The Keys to Assembling a Strong Development Team

By Robert Plotka Managing Director, CityScape Capital Group | July 29, 2010

Work As A Team. Great projects are the result of great teamwork. Do not reinvent the wheel, and do not try to go it alone. A team of well-trained people, working to achieve a common set of objectives over time, is the most effective and efficient way of successfully implementing complex historic rehabilitation projects. Good teamwork requires that the qualities, styles and specialties of each team member are recognized in order to overcome shortfalls and draw on the group's collective strengths. Good teamwork also relies upon patience, perseverance, and a shared sense of mission.

Be Inclusive. One of the development team's greatest strengths is the diversity and inclusiveness of the team's membership. Early in the process, try to include key project staff and development partners in the design and planning stages to leverage expertise, minimize miscommunication, and build consensus. In some cases, a historic property may not be ripe for rehabilitation and it's better to find this out sooner rather than later. For example, a building may possess certain structural defects, or there may be environmental hazards lurking behind a wall or beneath the ground, that may preclude a project from moving forward.

Expect the Unexpected. The development process rarely runs smoothly. Unforeseen surprises can delay, or even terminate, the proposed rehabilitation of a historic building. That's why up-front due diligence is often a critical first step for any developer who wishes to renovate an old or historic property. Whether or not a historic rehabilitation project succeeds often depends upon the architects, engineers and consultants specializing in historic preservation who provide input to a developer during the feasibility stage. Their views can help determine whether to proceed with the actual renovation of a property. A successful redevelopment project starts and ends with the developer. Metaphorically, developers are the maestros who put all the players in tune. They are the ringmasters of a multi-ring circus. They coordinate and inspire, while at other times, they may rant and rave. Developers risk the cash on the front end of a deal. They also go hat in hand for money from partners and banks, and then become proud parents boasting that their new building can save the world. Developers are the major players in the high-risk, high-reward game of real estate development.

To finance the redevelopment project, a developer must win over the hearts and minds of prospective investors and lenders. The developer is typically judged on one's track record in the real estate development business, experience with the proposed project type, financial strength and liquidity, and willingness to choose other team members to balance out one's weaknesses.

As such, a key factor in the success of a historic rehabilitation project is the ability of the developer to assemble a strong team of professionals to carry out the project. The development team provides the developer with the essential skills, expertise and possibly relationships that may not be available through one's in-house staff. In addition, experienced professionals may add another level of credibility with the financing sources or other parties whose support is necessary for the success of the project.

Depending upon the complexity of the planned redevelopment and the level of in-house expertise, the developer determines what types of professionals are required to round out the development team and the order and timing in which these professionals are hired. As with any real estate development project, the core development team typically includes the developer plus an architect, legal counsel and a general contractor. Of course, other experts become involved at certain stages throughout the development process such as an appraiser, structural engineer, environmental consultant, market study firm, property manager and accountant.

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