Nobody likes a know-it-all who says they told you so. I’ll leave that to many other local development professionals who could have easily predicted the courtship between the city and its prom date for the midtown campus was destined to end in a crushed corsage and a torrent of tears.
The city thought it had cutting-edge thinking when it brought in Bay Area transplants to cook up something called a request for expressions of interest, or RFEI. Development professionals from around the country responded to the request, even as most scratched their heads over something neither seen nor heard before.
Like a bachelor-based reality show, the object of pursuit was attractive and the promise of future bliss potentially real. But getting gussied up for a beauty contest is time-consuming and expensive.
Such was the case with KDC Real Estate Development & Investments/Cienda Partners, the Dallas-based principal of the team assembled for the midtown campus beauty contest. After spending countless hours and many tens of thousands of dollars preparing its response, KDC was crowned the winner by a process purported to be transparent and metric-based. Like any pageant, it wasn’t. Ultimately, it came down to that company was the best looking, with an unmatched pedigree and deep financial pockets.
Anybody who has bought or sold a home knows the process. The buyer does due diligence and hires an inspection outfit on their own dime. Likewise, the seller discloses any known defects. The inspection comes back with new unknowns and the buyer says fix them, discount the price or we walk.
In this case, however, the seller knew stuff, perhaps unofficially, and left it to the buyer to figure out on their own. It cost the beauty queen hundreds of thousands and led to conclusions of repair and replacement estimates in the tens of millions.
When the campus became city-owned, Matthew O’Reilly was the city’s Land Use Department director. A civil engineer with a 30-year track record of local subdivision planning and development, O’Reilly served as chairman of the city’s Planning Commission prior to working for the city.
Mayor Javier Gonzales created a new city asset manager position around O’Reilly’s unique expertise and local development knowledge. Nobody knew more about what was up with the structures above ground at the campus. And more importantly, what was up with stuff under the ground — the stuff that really drives initial costs.
O’Reilly knew much of it was not good, and there were reports that said so. He didn’t claim at the time the precise estimates for repair or replacement, but he was qualified to do an engineer’s estimate based on any proposed usages.
O’Reilly didn’t last long in the Webber administration. During the RFEI process, he was back in the private sector and attached to one or more applicant teams, none of which prevailed. If any team should have had a weighted average, it would have been one with O’Reilly’s intimate knowledge of the campus.
Others deserve a second look, too. The Central Park Santa Fe team was led by Allan Affeldt. Unlike the purely professional corporate assessment of fiduciary responsibility that jilted the current affair, Affeldt’s team was driven by someone who knows and has proven the power of resurrecting distressed historical assets for maximum civic redevelopment.
He knows it’s messy and relishes the chance to be right again. For him, and those attached to him, it was never about the money. It was about the legacy of doing something historic for our beautiful city.
RFEI should not now become an acronym for reason for extending indefinitely.
Editor’s note: Kim Shanahan served as an adviser to one of the teams not selected in the initial midtown campus process. He is not affiliated with any potential interested party.