Donjek Project: Site Evaluation and Selection

Over the last few months, I’ve been partnering with a client to examine potential redevelopment sites along a planned rail transit corridor. As I described in this previous post, some property owners and users are in search of sites that are not only near station areas and other nearby assets, but clearly and conveniently connected.

In my home market in the Minneapolis Saint Paul region, the same impulse can be observed. Take, for example, the 34-story residential redevelopment recently approved by the Minneapolis Planning Commission, which is adjacent to a light rail transit platform at the Nicollet Mall station, next to the prospective Gateway Park, and reachable (both by pedestrian and transit mall and skyway) from all work, civic and entertainment locations in the central business district.

The Minneapolis example, however, made for easy site selection – its value is obvious. As customer preferences shift and transportation (both in mode and in cost) evolves, new opportunities will arise to identify and redevelop less evident, but very high-potential sites. Welcome to the future.

Related Articles:


The Business Case: Connect to Your Surroundings

“We’re at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history. The next 10 years will be very different than the last 30.” – Peter Miscovich, Jones Lang LaSalle, 2010

Connections bring foot traffic, and foot traffic underlies prosperous places. We depend on and value connections in different ways than in the past. Census data released this year confirms falling commuting by car and rising use of transit, bike commuting, and walking. America’s two largest demographic groups – Baby Boomers and the “Millennials” – are aligned in driving this trend.

Stronger links between buildings and their surroundings have long been values of urban designers. Increasingly, because these links present a business case by reducing vacancy and increasing lease rates, commercial tenants, property managers and owners are focusing on connections to neighboring property.

Connections nearly always involve interaction with both private and public sectors. Consider these examples:

  • Average space per employee has fallen from 500-700 square feet to 200 today, and is still dropping. Accommodating the needs of more employees, and maximizing spillover benefits, involves the public and private sectors, and can distinguish property owners and increase demand and values.
  • In 2011, transit in the region will move over 80 million passengers, including 69% who choose transit instead of their cars. In Minneapolis, the number of bicycle commuters increased by 27% from 2007-10. Property owners and managers prepared to engage these audiences will link to a growing base of consumers arriving by bicycle and foot.

Donjek has demonstrated expertise in real estate finance, public/private sector negotiations, and planning to help owners, managers and other users of urban real estate increase the function and desirability of property. More specifically – we can work with you to:

  • Serve as your “R&D” function to take advantage of ways to attract feet
  • Enhance visibility, increase safety, and boost foot traffic
  • Create value by taking advantage of proximity to nearby large employers or institutions
  • Produce real-time analysis of TIF cash flow of any district that may contain your property
  • Monitor the development process of nearby parcels in transition, for impacts on your transportation, zoning, or other assets
  • Create communication about these initiatives in a way that sets you apart.

The preferences of businesses and their customers are evolving. Tenants and their customers are leading the way, and you have an opportunity to attract and retain them with innovative strategies that reflect an evolving set of demands.

Related Articles:

Donjek Tools: Advocating for Local Stimulus

School_Ren Federal and state efforts to spur creation of jobs and economic activity have dominated news in the last year. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) constitutes stimulus funding to states and local governments. Funding resources are made available in some cases by formula, and in others, by competitive process.

Donjek is working with school districts and cities to:
  • Identify stimulus-related funding sources that address their needs. As part of this evaluation, we also identify long-term operating costs;
  • Partner with school district and city staff to apply for those funds to be awarded on a competitive basis, and to ensure that funds awarded on a formula basis are effectively distributed;
  • Advocate for appropriations for school districts and cities at the state and federal levels. 
As described in further detail below, execution of the ARRA provisions will be large scale and necessarily complicated; as program details emerge, this expectation has been confirmed. Large municipalities are effectively pursuing these resources, and Donjek is proposing to create additional capacity in stimulus funds procurement for municipalities large and small.

Stimulus funds are, generally, to be appropriated in two ways:
  • From federal agencies to states, either for state-level investments or state distribution to local governments;
  • Directly from federal agencies to local governments or other end users.
The first tranche of stimulus funding for Minnesota school districts took the form of stabilization funds. The State of Minnesota is exchanging these dollars ($500 million) with state funds, meaning that Minnesota districts will not receive new money through this program.

School districts do have an opportunity to access a range of additional stimulus programs, including those in the following general funding categories:
  • ARRA Title I;
  • ARRA Title II;
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”);
  • McKinney-Vento Act;
  • Expansion of qualified bonding authorizations;
  • Rural Community Facilities program.
Cities may also have access to stimulus funds designated for various uses, and associated with different allocation processes and mandates:
  • Broadband Access;
  • Brownfield Remediation;
  • Energy Efficiency in Public- and Private-Sector Buildings;
  • Fire and Emergency Response Staffing;
  • Highway Infrastructure;
  • Housing Finance and Retrofitting;
  • Public Building Renovation;
  • Rural Business Development;
  • Rural Community Facilities Investments;
  • Solar Cities Program.
School districts and cities are financially pressed currently. Evaluating which stimulus sources are worth pursuing in a competitive process will reduce the potential waste of chasing programs as their resources and provisions are unveiled. 

Donjek Tools: Evaluating Commercial Property with GIS

A thread that has connected my work over the last eighteen months: An interest by placemakers in more fully understanding how and why places work in an economic sense. Doing this effectively is more important in this economic climate than at any other time in recent memory. We have varying reasons for wanting know what makes a place economically vibrant:

• Lenders want to know more about factors that influence the value of collateral, that are external to the property itself. They seek a basis to evaluate the surrounding environment.  
• Urban designers are assembling ideas with an eye on how physical layout can most powerfully combine with topography and geography, land use, and transportation. 

• Developers are evaluating opportunities based on the land and its relationship to nearby assets, as well as on the attractiveness of location to prospective tenants or buyers.

• Planners working with public agencies and private firms are seeking to use available data to better understand market values, the impact of foreclosure or public investments, and a range of other factors essential to planning and policy formation.

This month, Donjek has introduced tools to strengthen the ability of each of these parties to reach these objectives. These tools harness geographic information systems (“GIS”) analytics to provide a comparison of the area surrounding one property versus others, and provide additional capacity to plan, rate and prioritize projects.

Clients need GIS, but don’t need to invest the resources to develop GIS tools in-house. Read an example of how Donjek’s GIS tools are applied (in this case, to the needs of a lender), and contact us to discuss gathering and understanding information that influence your land use decisions.

Join a broader discussion about using GIS to explore urban life by joining a LinkedIn group I just started, called Planet Mashup.

Coming Down with Cartographia

It's a tradition:  In December, we share gifts. In January, we share illnesses. 

This year, in addition to a winter cold, I have taken on a new level of interest in the ever-expanding field of mapping or cartography. In some measure, this is because in the coming weeks I will be releasing mapping services that will interest placemakers – property investors, land use advocates, bankers, transit supporters – seeking to understand why some urban areas thrive and others stagnate. I've posted here before about GIS applications in Donjek projects, but my next steps will extend beyond my prior application of these tools.

For now, I am attaching two maps that I hope will interest you as they have me.  The first is a map I created online at Wordle, a free online tool to convert text to a graphic – the more oft-cited a word in the text, the larger its profile in the map. The map shown here is based on a Donjek report I drafted in recent weeks, and which will be available in final form shortly. You can guess its subject. See the collection of inaugural speeches in this "word cloud" form, provided by the New York Times.

The second is a map representing seven years of over 2,000 iterative changes made to the Wikipedia article on evolution, by 68 editors. The width of the graph bands indicates the number of words in the evolution article, and the colors indicate the identity of the author. The source of this map is Urban Cartography, a quirky and interesting collection.

Colorful pictures are all I can offer today – but I and my health will be back by the end of the week.