Topeka, Kansas-based Cook, Flatt & Strobel Engineers Inc. was the sole respondent to the city’s recent request for qualifications issued to 14 firms regarding 200 acres the city owns in southwest Springfield.
After the RFQ’s Jan. 11 deadline came and went, city officials only had one submittal in hand. They anticipated three to five.
“It’s unusual, but not unknown to only get one response,” said Assistant Environmental Services Director Ron Petering. “Those firms made a business decision not to respond.”
Petering is listed as the contact in the RFQ letter, though it is signed by Environmental Services Director Errin Kemper.
According to the letter, dated Dec. 13, 2018, the city is “seeking a consultant, to work as an extension of city staff, to produce a master plan and market analysis.” A copy of the letter was sent anonymously to Springfield Business Journal’s newsroom earlier this month.
Petering said the 200 acres are northwest of the James River Freeway and West Bypass interchange. The city already operates the nearby Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, John Twitty Energy Center and a salt storage facility shared with Greene County.
Todd Polk, associate senior project manager with CFS, said the firm is interested in building a relationship with the city. It’s operated in Springfield since 2013 and currently has an office in Chesterfield Village.
Tim Rosenbury of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. said his architecture firm also would be involved if the city selects CFS as consultant. Rosenbury said CFS would serve as the lead, with BRP Architects assisting. National Valuation Consultants Inc., a real estate appraisal company, is the third member of the team, he added.
BRP was one of the firms that received the letter, but Rosenbury said leadership decided against submitting its own response.
“The challenge for firms such as us and CFS is to do a self-examination,” Rosenbury said. “How qualified are we to lead or participate in the process?”
City Manager Jason Gage spoke about the project Jan. 15 during SBJ’s 12 People You Need to Know live interview series.
Gage said the project is in its early stages to determine the best use of the property for municipal needs over the next “20, 30, 40, maybe 50 years.”
“That’s pretty far out,” he said. “Right now, that’s a pretty boring topic, unfortunately.” Gage said he hasn’t previously collaborated with CFS on city projects.
According to the city’s letter, “the department is considering use of the property to develop various offices and facilities to support their long-term mission.” It goes on to say the master plan would identify the developable areas, divide them into tracts, determine the potential marketability and recommend roadway access.
Petering said the city acquired the various tracts of land decades ago.
“We’re looking for intelligence as to what some options will be,” he said, noting the city is not selecting a developer for the land. “We’re trying to become more educated if this land develops, for any purpose. As we do that, at least we’re not limiting ourselves or being blind to any other opportunities for use of the ground.”
One of the possibilities would impact the Environmental Services Department, which Petering said has space needs. Outside of its presence at the city’s treatment plants, other maintenance and engineering staff are located across four buildings in town.
“We’re pretty spread out,” he said.
City staff discussions have floated out the possibility of using a portion of the land to store Environmental Services’ trucks, along with office space. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department has a need for a new animal shelter, and Petering said the site also is being considered for that.
“That’s the point of the study – to look at what type of use makes sense,” he said. “If an office makes sense, then that at least opens our discussion from a long-term standpoint.”
Titus Williams, president of Enterprise Commercial Group LLC and principal with NAI Enterprise LLC, said he didn’t personally receive a letter but was approached by a local architecture firm who had knowledge of the letter. He said the firm, which he declined to name, inquired about his interest in partnering on the potential project. Ultimately, neither party was part of a response to the city.
His brother Phil, along with business partner Trip Rhodes, announced a 100-acre development in south Springfield valued at $500 million in July 2018. Dubbed The Ridge at Ward Branch, RW Developments LLC plans to develop 60 acres for commercial and multifamily use, and 40 acres for a senior living community. RW Developments seeks to start development this year and complete the commercial aspects in 2021.
With 100 acres for The Ridge and another 200 acres of potential land development for the city-owned property, Titus Williams said he has concerns about the possibility of oversupply in the local real estate market. He doesn’t believe that’s the case currently but said getting to that point would be detrimental to the city.
“If there’s an oversupply of product – being buildings constructed or developed – it will affect the market as a whole with greater vacancy,” he said.
The current industrial building vacancy rate in Greene and Christian counties combined is 3.2 percent, according to Ryan Mooney of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, in his Dec. 3, 2018, column in SBJ.
Much like the national real estate market, Williams said there’s currently a high cost of labor and materials, which leads to higher construction costs. Developers need incentives right now, he said.
“They need a really good developer,” he said of the city’s 200 acres. “The developer will have to have incentives to develop the land.”
Petering downplayed any concerns of inflating the real estate market or a conflict of interest in the city’s role in the potential development.
“Frankly, our minds are not there,” he said. “Our minds are on does this make sense for some uses that we have. In the course of determining that, we just don’t want to do anything that may limit the flexibility of the land long-term.”
City staff will examine CFS’ portfolio to determine if the firm is the right fit for the consulting role. Gage said the city also might consider reissuing the RFQ.
“If they have the level of experience and the references for prior projects, and we know they can do what we need them to do, then it’s about negotiating the right financial deal to get them under contract and start moving on it,” Gage said. “If we’re not sure about that, we could always take another look if we needed to.”
Petering stressed expenditures for utilizing a firm’s services would come out of the Environmental Services enterprise fund and not the city’s general fund.
“We do not have a specific budget number that we’re limiting ourselves to, at the moment,” he said, adding a six-figure amount would be above expectations for the RFQ. “Obviously, we’ll want to be prudent in developing the scope of work and fee that’s determined.”
If the city selects CFS, the scope of work and price likely won’t be known until February or March, and Petering expects the master plan and market analysis process would probably last into fall.
Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.
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