We have all heard of the three most important things in a property search – location, location, location. Certainly that is still true, but I would argue that given the competitive commercial environment, short turnaround timelines and risk-minimization work that is being done there is a transition to another trend – timing, timing, timing.
Given today’s global market, companies need to react quickly when they have a new product or increasing orders. Nationally, about 80 percent of corporate relocation projects start by looking for existing space. Only when they do not find the existing space in the desired markets to meet their needs do they move to building something new. This has caused timelines for new development to shrink over the last few years and having a site “shovel ready” is no longer an advantage, but a requirement.
Given this new climate, municipalities have had to adjust how they perceive development projects and make considerable changes to their development review process to be competitive. It has become fairly common for municipalities across the country to work with property owners and developers to agree to fast-tracked permitting for certain developments. This provides much needed certainty to the developer and end user on not only what process they need to follow for development but also timelines associated with that development.
The city of Thornton has taken a different approach. Instead of fast tracking specific sites, we have decided to fast track specific uses and entire commercial areas in the city. We call these “Projects of Economic Significance.” Thornton understands that development, and the resulting jobs, come from the private sector. And while we believe that local governments have the responsibility to regulate development so it occurs in a way that is compatible with the community’s desires, we also believe that regulation should occur as timely and cooperatively as possible. Approvals in Thornton for office and industrial projects are to be handled administratively anywhere in the city and there will not be any public hearings required for sites that are annexed and zoned appropriately. We also have designated about 500 acres of retail land along Interstate 25 that would fall into this expedited category as well. This will save end users and developers, on average, 90 days in processing an application through the city as well as development costs. A couple of recent examples of new Thornton developments that are taking advantage of “Projects of Economic Significance” are the new 320,000-square-foot Simon Premium Outlet development at the northeast corner of 136th Avenue and I-25 and the new 80,000-sf Dynamic Metal Fabrication building being constructed at the northeast corner of 126th Avenue and Washington Street.
The importance for a municipality to have a clear and well-defined process to development review and site plan approval also is crucial. The corporate site selection process is actually more of a site elimination process. Most large companies start out with 80 to 100 different sites and thus are working to eliminate sites as fast as possible. We all know that time is money and, if a property appears to provide more risk based on not having the site as “shovel ready” as possible, it will be eliminated quickly from contention. This is where property owners and developers can garner a strong advantage by working with local economic developers prior to a project coming to the city. A community needs strong ties between its salespeople (economic developers) and development staff (planning, permitting, building) in order to provide top-notch service to end users.
Thornton recognizes that we are competing for projects not just with surrounding communities, but also globally. Thus it is important to benchmark ourselves with what our competition is doing on a national and global scale to see where the development process can be improved. This requires local municipalities and the real estate community to develop strong relationships and pursue creative ways to fast track the development process and help differentiate themselves from the competition.