My brain is full, and my extrovert buffer overfloweth

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I'm freshly back from 2 days in Chicago, representing my fair Ypsi at the National Brownfield Association's "The Big Deal" conference, and, after 2 full days of being "on", am quite looking forward to hiding in the office with some nice quiet paperwork. (Chicagoans: yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't let you know. This was a very surgical strike sort of trip, with almost no time spent outside of Navy Pier and Union Station.)

I was there primarily playing marketer - the NBA invited us to bring our 38-acre crown jewel brownfield site to their "property showcase", and was nice enough to waive the $400 registration fee. I was the guy uncommitted for those days, so was the lucky representative - and, while I ordinarily can easily talk up Ypsi's virtues at great length (a former faculty member recently asked if I secretly work for the Chamber of Commerce), it's a little more high-stress when the person you're pitching to is representing a private equity firm that's walking around the conference saying, "Hi, we've got $1 billion to spend - what've you got?"

Aside from that, though, I quite enjoyed this process. I'm historically somewhat leery of large-scale, monolithic redevelopment projects, both from the Jane Jacobsian bias towards fine-grained, incremental construction, and from a sort of "redevelopment roulette" point of view: while every city in the country is undertaking large-scale brownfield redevelopments, and it almost always turns out very well, you always have to wonder whether your project is the one with the bullet in the chamber... Seeing the various projects being undertaken around the country helped shift that general opinion, though, and the reaction of the various developer types to my pitch (and what sounded like envy from some of the other towns showing off property) did a lot to alleviate the background fear in the particular case - I had one developer almost visibly salivating, and another has already e-mailed expressing an interest in visiting. Score.

In between, I also found time to hit break-out sessions, and would have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable/informative conferences I've been to. (Thanks, NBA!) Some random tidbits:

The typical idea of a "brownfield redevelopment" involves taking old industrial land and putting it into residential use. Some communities have seen so much residential development pressure, though, that they've started encouraging industrial redevelopment industrial space, and setting up zoning that protects industrial land from residential encroachment - the exact opposite of 100 years of zoning practice. Portland, OR, calls these "industrial sanctuaries". One person spoke of maintaining some industrial land, but cleaning it up, as an environmental justice issue, as this land is typically in or near low-income neighborhoods that need redevelopment to provide jobs, not just 40-story luxury lofts. (It was either NYC or Chicago speaking...)

Developers take blogs/youtube/etc seriously. One of the big developer types stressed the need to monitor, and get involved in, the public discourse about a project, even or especially when the people talking are completely wrong. A representative of a PR firm talked about a vicious cycle of negative public opinion and negative media coverage that could spiral out of control and sink a project if not addressed by the developer - beyond a certain balance of public opinion, there's nothing a developer can do beyond cut bait, abandon the project, and let some new developer start the process all over. Both of these guys mentioned local blogs within about a minute of opening their mouths, which made lil' ArborUpdating me pretty happy. (Interestingly, when I asked, both the developer and the PR guy seemed to think that public agencies had little role in the discussion over a project - it's the developer's responsibility.)

Developers don't seem overly worried about Michigan's economy at the moment - because the real estate market in the rest of the country has gone to exactly the same place. Michigan is apparently no longer even in the top five states for mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates (the honor goes to Nevada, California, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio). And developers don't even seem that scared of the overall real estate market - concerned, but not scared. Experienced brownfield developers know that it will often be a year or three before they're ready to start building, let along selling, and so look at the market years from now, not the market now, so starting projects still makes sense to most of them. Starting projects in the commute-shed of Ann Arbor, in particular, seemed to appeal to a lot of the people I spoke to individually.

At any rate, my head is full, and the above is a small smattering of my 25 pages(!) of notes from various sessions, so maybe I'll share more later...

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Sounds awesome

Chicago has been talking about subsidizing industry on the river recently to keep it there, which actually seems like a somewhat wise interim decision with the decline of the dollar and the increase in fuel prices. Paul Krugman has been saying for a while that we are going to have to rebuild much of our manufacturing infrastructure if we let it deteriorate because of the temporary circumstances of the high dollar, cheap fuel, and low yuan.

I won't take it hard that you were in Chicago if you don't that I'm in Ann Arbor.

"Michigan is apparently no

"Michigan is apparently no longer even in the top five states for mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates"


Although, that does beg the question of where we are in the property value race (to zero...)?

property values

Somebody mentioned a 10% expected loss in property value.

In a sense, we're a lot better off than the Californias or Floridas - 10% loss is $25k here, rather than $100k. And, further, I expect the most expensive regions to lose the most in an "average 10% loss". Not to be pollyannaish or anything - trust me, I stalk local housing prices as much as the next guy. (Or, probably, more than any next guy who's not a realtor or full-time landlord....)

Brown Fields

Turning brown fields into green fields is a very good possibility in Ypsilanti.

Despite my rants and very tasteless humor, I find the debate over a measly 1% tax rather silly, all in all.

Ypsilanti is doing just fine, thanks to the jggling act of the Great Koryzno, who can take every silly spending decision of the council and make it disappear into the budget ... somewhere.

There's a new business grand opening this week (A ladies fashion shop), and another in the next week or so (a new gift and card shop). And the 20/20 group just got new prescription lenses and is now seeing a LOT of activity in the area focused on Ypsilanti ... duh! Also, several former Chamber members have joined the new, proactive D.A.Y.! That's more great news. More to come.

As I've written before, what we STILL lack is a local leader that can excite further visioning, and draw all of the individual groups who are all busy every night writing their grants proposals ... we need the bully pulpit to identify all of those individual efforts ... pull them into the mix ... provide momentum with city grants and tax relief ... and go further to lay out where we have been and to go on to say "Here is a vision our future."

Fear mongering will not save this city. (Who says it NEEDS saving?)

Taxes are NOT the issue here ... it's spending.

Water Street will happen, Motor Wheel will happen, Barfield will happen, Ave Maria will happen (and may already be in the works, as a matter of fact).

As Murph points out, there are many many developers looking for just the right piece of property and the right opportunity.

For the city, although the clock is ticking, the challenge is not to fear monger but to get out of town and get on the road to sell, sell, sell.