When the public sees the opening of a lavish hotel or a beautiful shopping center or a trendy mixed-use project, they might think of the architect and what a creative mind it took to produce such a sight.
But what the public doesn't see are the efforts of an army of consultants to create a concept, prepare a plan and obtain approval from a myriad of governmental agencies to be able to build the project. In addition, the public likely fails to recognize that timing on commercial projects is critical in order to take advantage of holiday shopping seasons. Some businesses make one-third of their yearly sales during the year-end holidays.
A consultant team for a commercial project will consist of many professionals, including architects, planners, civil engineers, traffic engineers, lawyers, environmentalists, marketers, financiers and contractors. Typically, a planner or architect will prepare a concept of the project for the owner, after which the owner ascertains if the project makes economic sense. This requires the consultant team to refine the preliminary plan to confirm its functionality, and prepare a cost estimate of this preliminary plan, which typically undergoes multiple iterations based on feedback from members of the team who utilize their areas of expertise to improve the plan. Additionally, future tenants and/or business owners may also provide input to assure the ultimate product meets their needs and schedules.
Having reached the point where the plan is both functional and economically feasible, the owner is required to obtain approvals from all governing agencies to acquire development rights to the project. These agencies determine that the project is compatible with surrounding land uses, environment and infrastructure. The process of obtaining approval is discretionary in nature, can take many years to accomplish and can be very costly. Typically, multiple agencies require approval, and they frequently have conflicting requirements. It is during the discretionary process that construction schedules are developed and refined to show that commercial elements will be opened in time for critical holiday shopping periods.
With discretionary approval for the project received, construction documents are prepared and submitted to the same governing agencies for approval to construct the project. These documents are much more detailed than the preliminary plan and are used by contractors to build the project, and must be checked against the discretionary approval for conformance. The time required in designing the project and processing the plans to obtain the construction permits can be lengthy, and expensive as well. Throughout the process, schedules are constantly monitored to ensure opening dates for the commercial establishments are met.
Only after construction permits are obtained can the lavish hotel, the beautiful shopping center or the trendy mixed-use project be built to ensure it's opening in time for the holiday shopping season.
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Submitted by Tim Murphy, associate principal with Rick Engineering Co.