Last week I presented at a community workshop re: the future of Union Square (Somerville, MA) and shared GSP’s perspective on certain retail & placemaking initiatives and related thoughts that will be at the heart of our work in the neighborhood over the next few years. As many of you know we were recently hired by the Master Developer, U2S, to assist in ground floor planning, retail development and eventual retail leasing of the project. It’s going to be a fun and important gig for us. Anyways, my piece was focused on process. Therefore the content was a bit different than many of the public presentations I’ve made of late; I focused on bigger picture values, approach and paradigm as opposed to specific floor plans, real estate users or building schemes. I came up with this framework to guide my presentation, which felt pretty good:
Listen || Plan || Recruit || Execute
Union Square aside, I think “Listen, Plan, Recruit, Execute” properly encapsulates our approach here at GSP on all of our projects; and it’s what sets us apart. Our ability and trackrecord in bringing retail & placemaking projects from community + client aspirations through activation is unique and is a big evolution from our original roots as transaction centric brokers. No doubt one of the things I’m most proud of in connection with our work and services is that we have planning capabilities and execution capabilities. We’ve fallen rather comfortably into the intersection of planning + development + brokerage. It’s a good place to be. And it does indeed look like this:
Listen. This is where we always start. Listening to the community and spending time digging into the history of the place — both the commercial and the social history. Some of our projects are very community engagement heavy; others require the majority of the listening to be focused on the client. But regardless of the specific targets of our listening, this is the prelim phase of all projects wherein we start to flesh out goals/objectives and this work flows directly into and continues in parallel with the strategic planning phase to follow.
Plan. Application of the lessons we’ve learned from above and the start of work on a strategic plan and overall vision for the project. It’s in this second phase where the placemaking really kicks in and this is very much about values, community integration, story-telling, etc. It’s a two-way street here and there’s a lot of brainstorming. Project realities, constraints and opportunities are layered into community and clients desires. This is where we may start moving a little closer to earth and commence our first set of tenant and partner conversations to unravel feasibility (timing, infrastructure, construction, etc.) and market demand considerations.
Recruit. Based on above scheming & planning we now move to the job of recruiting the right strategic partners / event planners / collaborator and, most important to much of our work, the long-term retail tenants that will lease space in our projects and help us realize our strategic plan. I think it is in this phase where we really separate ourselves from the rest of the market. GSP has completed the usual restaurant deals (and some really really good ones) but we’ve also successfully recruited artists, food trucks, non-profits, etc. and have found partners to run boat slips, farmers markets and innovation events for our projects. This is all part of the execution. It’s painful and incredibly time consuming when done right. But man it’s fun work.
Execute. If all goes as planned (see above), this is actually the easy part!
Listen. Plan. Recruit. Execute… Repeat.