Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What the Owner Decides

Central Dallas CDC is the owner of CityWalk@Akard, and I’m the Executive Director of Central Dallas CDC, so you might think I would make decisions about everything that we’re doing. You would be wrong.

The role of the owner in a project like this is sort of like the role of the father of the bride (a role I probably need to practice for since I have a twenty-two year old daughter and someday she’ll probably marry). You get to pay for everything but you better not have the delusion that you get to make the choices. It all works out fine for me, I am a lawyer by training and I know quite a bit about financing projects like CityWalk, but I’m far from an expert at construction. All the important decisions are made by the contractor and the architect.

So what kind of things do I get to decide? Of course originally we decided what the project was about and its general parameters, but that was a couple of years ago when we had just begun. Now almost the only things that I get to decide have to do with spending more money.

Do we want to put a mirror or a medicine chest in our bathrooms? A medicine chest will cost more (unless we get a really cheap one, but then it will be a maintenance problem), but it will provide a little extra storage for our tenants.

The cost of any one item isn’t so much, but added together they can destroy your budget.

Can we afford metallic paint for the “buttons” on the outside of the building? Some of the marble panels on the outside need replacing. Can we replace them all? Is it a safety concern? Can we use metallic panels instead? Can we upgrade the light fixtures? Should we repair the current roof drains or put in new ones? Can we use cement rather than asphalt on the parking lot in back? Can we use cement pan stairs rather than metal stairs for the new fire stair?

The questions and choices go on and on. Each one may be small in itself (although a few will be large) but they add up. Worse, from my point of view, any expense that is not already budgeted needs to be approved by the bank and I have to find a source to fund it. So I try to balance all these choices against each other, taking the advice of my architect, general contractor and project manager as to which will add the most value to the development. But in the end, the quality of the end product will depend on the sum of those choices and the ability to fund the hundreds of small improvements that make a building better.

So, someday perhaps, if my daughter asks me to upgrade the menu for the wedding dinner from chicken to steak, I’ll be ready to explain that of course I can—if she’ll just cut the guest list in half.

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