In recent history, Detroit and I am sure many communities like Detroit, have announced large projects with great fanfare in the media, only to see those large projects dramatically scaled down when completed or not completed at all. 

In Detroit, the property where the J.L. Hudson Building once stood, remains empty, The Michigan Central Station remains vacant, The Aerotropolis near the Detroit Wayne County Airport (now known as Vantage Port) remains unbuilt, Bloomfield Park remains desolate and the Wayne County Jail remains half built. 

Long before projects are publicly announced, developers should circle their design and build team around the key stakeholders who can turn their vision into a reality or who can prevent them from realizing their vision.

Certainly there could be opposition and people who oppose various aspects of a high profile project but their views should be known prior to making any announcement. in addition, relationships should be developed, even with those who could oppose a project, to understand their concerns and address their issues.

As part of their team developers need an independent public affairs consultant to conduct community assessment and find ways to minimize risk of project delays while working to build community, business and government support for a given project, as well as survey the media for opportunities to engage the public on a broader discussion the impact a specific project will have in the community.

The Ann Arbor City Council recently held an open hearing to  consider the development of South Pond Village.  Very few people spoke in support of the development. Instead, the representative for the developer said that they have complied with the local ordinance, they have worked with the planning committee, they have done everything they can to address the community’s concerns and they want the council to vote on the project. 

After listening to the public comment, it was clear that while the developer checked the boxes on their list of “To Dos” the failed to meet the expectations of the community or at least listen to and address the concerns the community had. mliv

In working on projects ranging from 55-block mixed use developments involving a new hockey arena to an 1,800 MW off shore wind farm in The Great Lakes, to a deep injection well near an airport and petroleum coke stored along the Detroit River, I know how important it is to engage key stakeholders early in the process of any mix-use development and project that has the potential to impact a community. I have also experienced this as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary for the Mayor of Detroit and on other projects I have worked on.

From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to a project’s success. In addition, developing strategic and meaningful relationships, long before a project is announced, will help minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.

Developers need to rethink how they approach high profile projects in the future and strategic communications, media relations, stakeholder engagement and public affairs should be a major part in every strategy moving forward.