Steering Projects Through Community Opposition

By Andrew Glincher Office Managing Partner, Nixon Peabody LLP | October 28, 2008

Sometimes projects that seem to make all the sense in the world on the drawing board run into opposition from a variety of sources - opposition that can threaten the projects' success. Consider these possibilities:

After years of deferred maintenance, a large, but outdated hotel finds itself in a state of disrepair. It has reached a point where it clearly cannot continue to function without extensive and costly renovations. To finance those renovations, the owners develop a plan to convert some of the property to condos and some of the public spaces to retail. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense. It breathes new life into a long-neglected property, saves it from potential ruin, and provides a mechanism through which the economics work for the owners.

But preservationists argue that certain elements of the building's interior have historic significance and should be landmarked - which would make many of the renovation plans impossible to implement.

Another hotel in a suburban community wants to expand, creating additional rooms and a new state-of-the-art conference center that will attract business users from around the region and provide a strong boost to the local economy. But instead of welcoming the project, local residents threaten to block it with litigation because they fear the project will produce additional traffic and because a new parking lot will be constructed in formerly open space.

Issues like these arise frequently. The most successful property owners anticipate them in advance and plan to deal with them. But sometimes opposition comes as a surprise and can derail the entire project, through delays, added costs, litigation and political pressure.

How do you make your project a reality in the face of organized opposition? Preparation at the outset is one of the keys. Property owners can't simply design the project they think is best and expect to put their heads down and push it through. You need to do your due diligence and truly understand the issues that are likely to arise. Retain local consultants, experts, attorneys and public relations people if necessary to provide insights into the issues the community considers important and where the obstacles are likely to lie.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.