Off to Boston. Not for the National APA meeting. But for a class trip for the Masters of Real Estate program with Auburn. For the next few days we get the opportunity to visit a diverse City and experience development, patterns, transportation, place making, landscape architecture, urban design, architecture, food, culture, people and maybe a Bruins game, all unique to our host city.
The trips in the past have been wildly successful for the program and the educational benefits for the students. Past trips have included the ULI National Conference and a trip to Philadelphia. The trip to Philly which will most likely be the template for the Boston trip, was comprised of several meetings with prominent officials, public figures, and major developers in the Philadelphia area. We were able to have one on one discussions with these individuals, be introduced to their projects and how they do business. It was a great experience. The highlights from the Philadelphia trip were many, especially the honest conversations about development, the scale and scope of projects from a town home to the Comcast tower. Site tours of each project and being exposed to the finances and design that allowed each to built and succeed today. Below is my reflection paper for the Philadelphia trip. I hope to have just as memorable experience in Boston.
Philadelphia Reflection Paper
July 7th, 2010
Delayed flying in and flying home put a damper on my travels to Philadelphia, but not on what I experienced while there. Starting with the train ride from the airport, through the people we met, the meetings, and tours, to enjoying all those that I traveled with. I truly enjoyed my time in Philadelphia. My first flip back through my notes and photos, I quickly gravitated to all the scribblings I underlined and starred for later. My trip is a culmination of quotes, object lessons and real world projects that come to life from case study pages.
Quotes and object lessons that stand out:
● Ed’s and Med’s
● Make a great Place
● I don’t care
● All Problem Solving
● Anything good needs to function in four ways
● Power of Risk
● Choice Making
● Client Engagement
● Partnerships, Relationships
● Good Listener
My Philadelphia trip started with a delayed plane arriving late, followed by a quick dash to the hotel to catch the tour bus. Though instead of the frantic cab ride from the airport I had a better, faster, more enjoyable experience taking the train. That first experience says a lot to me about a city, where I can show up late, still find and navigate my way to the train through the ticket purchase and to my destination easily and quickly. Dropped off two blocks from the hotel and able to make our first meeting.
Our first meeting is a contradiction for me. At the time, the meeting was an eye opening, introduction to the City of Philadelphia from a prominent group of individuals that shared with us their current projects, their loves and their problems about the City. I felt at ease and enjoyed the quality of information and discussion we had. After our next two days of sight tours and additional meetings, I feel the first meeting we had with the City staff, was under whelming and was a reflection of the problems and issues we heard from the development community. I feel like the City was not doing all they could to help Philadelphia, I knew this because of what the other individuals we met shared with us. Their stories regarding their interactions with the City and the role the City played in their developments. Though, I clearly remember day one, at the time, the meeting with the City staff was excellent. The experience in reflection is a contradiction for me. Something that did stand out and would be a theme we would hear for the rest of our time in Philadelphia. What comprised the Philadelphia market, Education and Medical campuses, Ed’s and Med’s; the current backbone of the Philadelphia market and employment centers.
If the first meeting could be called white, then our second and third meetings would be black, 180 degrees different. Our next two meetings put us on the ground in projects. We
toured with the developers, asked questions and learned from them. Both represented two different scales one needing hundreds of tenants, the other looking for 8. But both meetings had much to offer.
Bart kicked off our day and developer meetings and gave us a crash course in developer speak. Bart put on a great show for us. He toured us through his developments, showing us the pride he carried in them, the joys he found and the love for what he had created. Bart is easily memorable with such great quotes as “Make a great place, I don’t care, and its all problem solving”
Bart hit on a lot of key elements. He stretched himself from his earlier developments. He created place, which has the opportunity to be great. Though his idea is not original, the Piazza Nuvona is unique to Philadelphia and uniquely placed. What Bart did not share with us, but we had to find out and infer from other individuals, was how much he did listen and respond to the neighborhood. Bart presented us with the attitude of doing it all himself. And when he is the one putting up all of his own money to complete these types and scale of projects he got to put it, however he wanted to. It was later in other meetings when we relayed our experience with Bart, that we learned other details of the hows and whys. Besides Bart’s speech about making great place, when he stated “it is all problem solving” I took that to heart. Beyond the numbers, the designs, the concepts, when it matters, when it comes to getting it done and the reality of the construction and development process, Bart is a problem solver. Using his capital, his connections and his experiences to get it done.
Our next meeting with Tim showed us a different scale and size of developers. We had seen what Bart was doing, but here was Tim. A developer at a different place in his company, less employees, less capital, less budget, smaller scale. Tim was succeeding and was succeeding with his convictions of sustainable and quality. Tim also created unique developments with drastically different designs and budgets. Tim was successful, and achieved that success in what he said, “Anything good needs to function in four ways”. It was exceptional to see and hear how he was achieving success, his solutions, and his hurdles that he jumped enough to bring the projects he wanted to the market.
Tim and Bart had given us that first full day foray into private developers in the current Philadelphia market. From here we switched gears and went and learned about a “Town / Gown” Partnership that specifically looked at the visioning of the Philadelphia waterfront along the Delaware River. Penn Praxis began our discussions about partnerships, and the power of a unified vision. We would revisit this vision in our last meeting with the Delaware River Development Authority. Though Penn Praxis was short, the idea of the Power of Risk, a unified vision and choice making stood out, especially as we heard how Philadelphia hoped to move forward.
Day three I woke sensing it was not going to get any better. Days one and two had already been wonderful and informative, day three would be a slow march through what we had already heard and seen. I couldn’t have been more wrong and more pleased. Day three was, in effect a culmination of everything we had been hearing and discussing separately. We met, toured and spent the day discussing the Liberty Properties
developments both at the Navy Yards with PIDC and also at the Comcast Tower. One full day with one development group to talk about their projects and how they came to be. Liberty properties introduced to their partners and individuals who helped make their projects work, showed us how and why, and then toured us through the results. The depth, quality and sheer amount of information we were presented with and discussed was incredible.
It was a synthesis of what we had been seeing and talking about so far. We walked through their numbers on their projects. How they put them together, meeting their design teams and partners to discuss how unified visions allowed them to create diverse, unique places that had multiple functions and destinations. In effect we got to peek under the veil. The morning meetings gave us a chance to see their vision, and to discuss project specific numbers and the process that got them where they are. We were introduced to the architects and their partner with PIDC, weaving together some common themes of client engagement, partnerships and being a good listener, and how each plays out in their development. It was these lessons that I reflect on when thinking about the day spent with Liberty Properties. We saw a lot, discussed more, and were wowed on many occasions.
Day four, led us to the waterfront where we once again picked up the threads from prior meetings and tours to see the development on the waterfront. The project and meeting was a specific extension from the Penn Praxis meeting we had earlier, but we were now introduced to the details of the vision we had discussed. We once again were able to collect the information we had heard from prior meetings and apply them to the discussions of the waterfront. Partnerships, unified visions, place making, multiple functions, were all themes we discussed as we were led through the development strategy.
The trip to Philadelphia was remarkable. This reflection is only that, a quick, short reflection on some of the high points of trip. Each of these specific meetings and encounters can command pages of insights, experiences and findings from the meetings. Each was unique and brought another dimension to the trip that allowed them to build upon one another, showcasing a wide variety of individuals, attitudes, strategies, projects, lessons and ideas. It was a remarkable experience.