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GlobeSt.com: Finding the Right Developer is Crucial

by Carrie Rossenfield

IRVINE, CA—Developer selection has moved from process driven to recruitment driven, so matching the developer to neighborhood and use is critical, Tustin city manager Jeff Parker tells GlobeSt.com. As GlobeSt.com recently reported, the City of Tustin has now entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with OliverMcMillan, a national boutique real estate firm based in San Diego, to prepare a viable concept and business plan for 123 acres of Tustin Legacy's Community Core. We spoke exclusively with Parker about the development, why OliverMcMillan was chosen and the role of the developer in such a large project.

GlobeSt.com: Can you give me an overview of the Tustin Legacy development?

Parker: Tustin Legacy is a 1,600-acre master-planned community that represents the last large infill site in Central Orange County. Since the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin was officially conveyed in 2002, the City has overseen planning, development and significant infrastructure investment. There remain unique challenges associated with the reuse of an ex-military base that include environmental remediation and ongoing interaction with an array of public agencies, from federal to local.

While there are hundreds of acres still to be developed, the City has completed many significant milestones. These include $200 million invested in a phased $400 million infrastructure plan, 2,800 residential units completed and under construction, and 1.1 million square feet of shops, dining, and entertainment completed and under construction.

GlobeSt.com: What is the vision for this 123-acre Community Core project and what will it include?

Parker: The 123-acre Community Core is really the geographic center of Tustin Legacy. This is why we are taking the time to create a plan with the right balance of uses that connects seamlessly with our residential and commercial districts. We expect the plan will include horizontal and vertical mixed-use elements with a mix of uses and product types such as office over ground-floor retail, mid-rise residential, unique public open spaces and entertainment venues.

True to our long term vision for Tustin Legacy, it will connect elements with an emphasis on pedestrian-friendly, active environments, providing something for all age groups to enjoy. Ultimately, we will find the appropriate development scale that successfully balances the uses and products, providing a place people will seek out and return to for an unforgettable experience.

GlobeSt.com: What makes OliverMcMillan the right choice for this project?

Parker: We knew that this opportunity required a developer who was highly successful in a variety of environments, had the ability to take on large-scale development and had experience with public/private partnerships. We found that with OliverMcMillan, plus so much more. The firm brings a visionary leadership with passion for placemaking. It also has long-term strength in that they have a strong equity partner, wide-ranging relationships with institutional lenders and a proven ability to attract national tenants and users.

One of the things that really stood out for our City Council was OliverMcMillan’s successful experience with historic structures and its demonstrated interest in integrating the historic blimp hangar into the community-core plan. The company knew that legacy meant something to our community and understood the importance of paying homage to our military history. Bottom line, it is a developer that is willing to listen to the City’s wants and desires.

GlobeSt.com: You have surrounded yourself with developers that are ready to "push the boundaries" in terms of new development for OC. How important is choosing the right partners in making Tustin Legacy a success?

Parker: The City has one chance at getting it right. We’ve been selective, and for that reason we’ve looked regionally and nationally for the right developers with experienced staff. While a successful track record is important, we also want to work with developers who are risk takers and push the envelope without jeopardizing City assets.

Developer selection is no longer process-driven as traditionally done in the public sector. For us, it’s recruitment-driven—finding the right developer for the right neighborhood and use. We want to participate in the design process with the developer because we truly believe that Tustin Legacy must have its own identity. This isn’t a knock-off of something that has already been done. The last thing we want to be is boring and uninteresting because Orange County is changing—and we have a chance to be the place for this region’s next generation and for those to come.

GlobeSt.com: What is unique to the City’s process?

Parker: The City wears two hats, one as the master developer and the other as regulator. Not many cities are in both roles, where the City takes responsibility for creating the plan as well as implementing it. Tustin Legacy is a City asset. Protecting that asset and minimizing risk is the primary goal of the City Council.Our approach to developing Tustin Legacy is the same as any successful developer of a master planned community. We believe that our approach must remain flexible, but can’t be reactive. The puzzle must be carefully thought through so that the pieces are seamlessly matched.