December 15, 2009

Frank Johnson, BDDC chair, explains his vote for Renaissance

This is the statement read by Frank Johnson, the chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., to explain his thinking about the choice of a developer for the former mall site:

The BDDC was created in April of 2007, following exhaustive and sometimes heated discussion. Since its creation, the BDDC has endeavored to carry forth the task of creating a plan for the revitalization of the downtown heart – a seventeen acre parcel - which has been tentatively named Depot Square.

The BDDC has been impaneled for over two and a half years. In fact all of our three-year appointments expire in April of 2010. In the time that the corporation has existed, we have accomplished much in terms of laying the groundwork for a downtown that current and future generations will be proud of – a center of our city that includes living, shopping and entertainment opportunities in addition to creating live/work and office uses.

We envision a city center that embraces the rebirth of rail and multi-modal transportation and incorporates green building principles. We hope to create a plan that is not limited to the seventeen acre parcel but instead accomplishes not only that but becomes a catalyst for the improvement of the areas that surround the Depot Square parcel. We believe that by achieving success in accomplishing that goal, improvements will eventually spread to some of the other parcels located adjacent to, or within walking distance of Depot Square.

We have discussed our individual and collective visions and we have listened to the stakeholders to whom we answer; the taxpayers, the private and business citizens of our city, the members of all of the boards and commissions that have relevance in the downtown area and, of course, to the professionals that we have hired in order to help us accomplish our task.

The board has been as transparent as possible in its actions and has allowed public input at every step in the process.

In that time we have been in existence, the BDDC has:

·        Interviewed law firms, and hired legal counsel.

·        Interviewed potential executive directors, and hired an Executive Director.

·        We reestablished contact with DECD and have kept them fully apprised of our plans and our progress.

·        We have completed the environmental mapping.

·        We assured the grocer that they could continue operations while a plan could be developed.

·        We watched the demolition of the Mall.

·        We have maintained talks with Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds and assured them that we hope they will have a place in the future rebirth of our city center.

·        The BDDC has taken lots of public input and heard considerable stakeholder input.

·        BDDC worked with the City Comptroller on budget issues.

·        BDDC conducted a naming contest selected a name for the parcel.

·        We worked with the Purchasing Department on various RFP’s and RFQ’s.

·        We worked in tandem with the Mayors ten-year planning committee.

·        We did an RFP for a parking study, Interviewed respondents and hired a firm. That work is ongoing.

·        We worked with BDA on the streetscape along Main Street.

·        In 2008, BDDC issued an RFP for developers and we received a disappointing response to that RFP.

·        We watched the demolition of the Sherwin Williams building and we have seen the creation of a nice greenway where the building once stood.

·        In 2009 we issued an RFQ, and received two quality responses to that RFQ.

·        BDDC publicly interviewed the two respondents, and subsequently requested two rounds of financial information in order to assure that our due-diligence was thorough and complete.


The City of Bristol and the BDDC owe a great deal of gratitude to the two firms that responded to our RFQ. Not only has each demonstrated the necessary vision to look through the current economic clouds and see a brighter horizon beyond, they have complied with each and every request the BDDC has made; and they have done so with courtesy, dignity and professionalism. For their courage in this economy, for their vision in this process and for their recognition of the fact that this economic downturn is a perfect time to plan for the coming economic recovery, I thank them both and congratulate them both for their vision, their cooperation and their patience.

Tonight we are here to discuss the responses to our RFQ and to potentially make a decision on naming a Tentative Preferred Developer.

I emphasize the TENTATIVE since we envision this not as a final selection but as another step toward a final selection. Let me elaborate.

·         Upon the selection of a TENTATIVE Preferred Developer the next step would be to make a recommendation to the City Council that they ratify the selection of the Tentative Preferred Developer.

·         If that happens, the next step would be to negotiate a Preferred Developer Agreement, or a PDA. This step alone could take 60-90 days. Within that PDA any number of conditions, timelines, and financial considerations could be addressed. It might include time-lines or benchmarks of progress and even next steps if the development plan is ultimately successful and approved by the City.

·         I would expect that the BDDC, the Mayor and the city staff and corporation counsel would all be a part of negotiating the PDA. Bear in mind that the BDDC does not own or control the parcel; it is charged with developing a plan for its development.

·         Should the City, the BDDC and the developer be successful in negotiating a PDA; both bodies (the City Council and BDDC) would then be asked to approve the agreement.

·         Only then would we move forward in getting the developer involved in further discussions and planning with the BDDC and with DECD as the EIE process proceeds.

The two responses we received were similar but there were some significant differences as well. For instance, Renaissance offered to come to town, open a local office, follow their own stage-gate process and spend a year working with the city in developing a proposed development plan. At the end of the year Bristol could go with the plan or decide to pursue some other course. This offer from Renaissance Downtowns was rather unique, from my perspective.

On the other hand designating D’Amato as the preferred Developer would give us a strong local history and network of contacts with a team that is ready to hit the ground running and to begin creating a permanent plan.

As a result of these differences the negotiating of a PDA might be completely different, depending upon which developer received Tentative Developer status.

As with most things in life, this is not an easy task. It is made more difficult because we received two similar yet somewhat different responses, and that each proposal has great strengths.

As you know the two firms are D’Amato Realty, a local bidder and Renaissance Downtowns, an out-of-state bidder.

From the original submissions to tonight’s meeting we have each weighed, reviewed, considered and evaluated the two responses. I am sure that each member of this board has thoroughly thought through the process.

Personally, I have been impressed by a number of persuasive arguments that each has made to the board in writing and in response to questions.

D’Amato Realty, the D’Amato family and the team of professionals they have assembled has impressed me greatly. There is no doubt that the D’Amato team knows Bristol, understands the needs of the city and has extensive construction and development experience in Bristol and its surrounding communities.

The three generations of the family that spoke, brought forth the dedication and commitment that they feel toward Bristol, as evidenced by the fact that they themselves are Bristol residents, Bristol taxpayers and dedicated supporters of many organizations within our community.

Reaching beyond their family; they have assembled a professional team that includes all of the skill sets necessary to bring the development of Depot Square to fruition.

Renaissance Downtowns has an extensive book of work that encompasses much of New England and points well beyond. Mr. Monti has assembled a first-rate team of professionals as well.

Our RFQ stated in part:
The BDDC is seeking the most qualified developer that can create a unique livable downtown community that blends housing, office, retail, commercial, public facilities and open space with quality design, improved and pedestrian friendly street networks, and public gathering spaces, blending these recommended uses with the existing surrounding neighborhoods, encouraging neighborhood investment and pride and enhancing the quality of life throughout the area.

In considering my vote in selecting a Tentative Preferred Developer I weighed the value of a local developer who knows and understands our city against the qualifications presented by Renaissance Downtowns.

At the end of the consideration process I am compelled primarily by three significant and defining criteria.

·         The first is that in our RFP and our subsequent RFQ stressed the value of mixed use development. In order to successfully develop the Depot Square site reliance must be made on the concept of putting feet on the street. To that end, a higher concentration of residential units is, in my opinion, a plus. The higher number of residential units proposed by Renaissance, and the inclusion of a hotel is more in keeping with the concept of creating a livable and lived-in downtown.

·         The second is that during their oral presentations to this board each emphasized a very different approach to completing the development process. The D’Amato team repeated that theirs would be a TENANT DRIVEN approach. Thus, as their team identified - and negotiated with - each prospective tenant, they would design a building for the tenant in question and then build for that tenant and potentially create additional space within that building as they deemed marketable.

My concern regarding a tenant-driven approach is that many potential tenants have very specific criteria from which they will not deviate. Often this includes a signature building design and a required number of adjacent, dedicated parking spaces. Tenant-driven projects are successful along route 6 in Bristol or Route 10 in Southington and Plainville, but that development approach is not what we hope to see in downtown Bristol.

Renaissance stated that theirs would be a concept-driven approach whereby a plan would be developed for Depot Square that included mixed use. They would propose retail, restaurant, residential, commercial and even a hotel for downtown Bristol. Tenants would be shown the concept plan and could either buy-in to the concept or decide not to locate on the site. Renaissance also stated that they would bring downtown property owners together in order to facilitate referring potential downtown tenants that did not fit the design criteria for Depot Square to other landowners in downtown Bristol that might be able to better accommodate them

Both the City Plan for Conservation and Development and the downtown zoning regulations are very specific about the means of creating a high-density, livable, walkable and sustainable downtown. I don’t believe a Tenant Driven approach will accomplish those goals. I believe the plan must be concept driven.

·         The third and final point that compelled me was the fact that although D’Amato Realty has extensive experience in design, construction and maintenance of quality retail, commercial and residential buildings, they have not been involved in the design, concept planning or execution of a Downtown Development.

Renaissance Downtowns specializes in the creation of the type of downtown that we envision. In fact our RFP and subsequent RFQ stated under the EVALUATION & SELECTION PROCESS: Developers with experience in developing similar projects and the credentials to carry out the project will be given more favorable consideration.

It is not an easy choice, particularly when you are trying to plan for current and future generations, but I will support the selection of Renaissance Downtowns because:
·         I believe they best meet the criteria outlined in our RFQ,
·         Because they understand concept-driven development and
·         Because they have extensive experience in undertaking the type of re-creation of a downtown that this board, this city and the citizens of Bristol have envisioned, and articulated over the last two and a half years.

Finally, I would say that Renaissance, at its heart, is a developer. If they are selected as the Tentative Preferred Developer for Depot Square I urge them to follow through on another promise they made. They have asserted, and I would encourage, that as they move forward, they should use the many experienced and talented construction and professional firms that make Bristol a home.

With a combination of Renaissance as the developer and D’Amato, Carpenter, Laviero and others as construction partners; the process will be smooth, the product will be quality and the city will benefit in myriad ways both during the development process and long beyond.

*******
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I want to commend Frank Johnson for his service as Chairman of the BDDC and the effort he made to write the above comments. As a writer I know his effort took several hours. Its concise, clear thinking summary of the committee's activities for the past three years is a good historical record. I attest to its accuracy.

Again, thank you Frank.

Tom Cosgrove,BDDC

Dave Mills said...

I would like to commend Frank Johnson on his professional response and explanation of his vote. After listening and now having read the statement, it is obvious he spent a great deal of time and thought to his response Frank carefully outlined his reasons for choosing one proposal over the other.
I want you to know how proud all of Bristol should be for your professional approach to your role as chairman of the BDDC

Anonymous said...

A good board would have been prepared to vote this is a failure in leadership. So dont blow smoke up our ass.

Anonymous said...

Frank Johnson is not the "whole" board. He is one vote and he voted for renaissance, which is the right vote, in my opinion. I do not blame him for the ineptitude of Janelle or Kallenbach or Wright. They are clearly enamored by Damato and it didn't matter what information was put before them and it's obvious that lots of information was given to them. Janelle's 11th hour backing out is just deplorable! Leone needs to step down immediately and another person placed on that board before it's too late, if it isn't already too late.

Anonymous said...

This board has failed and has no respect . Let them go.

Anonymous said...

I don't consider the board a failure just because the members don't all agree. It indicates that they are strong people with strong opinions. I like that. They will get it done, without Leone.

Anonymous said...

9:47

I agree!
We need to continue to appoint strong people, not those who follow blindly.