Big dreams, big projects: How do you play and win?

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A public display of one bidder's concept site conception vision.
A public display of one bidder’s LeBreton Flats concept site vision.

Some opportunities and competitions within the AEC community?require incredible effort and resources. These are the large-scale infrastructure and development projects, where costs are in the high millions or even billions of dollars and the life cycle from conception to completion requires?a decade’s work or more.

We’re in the midst of one of these major project decisions as the Canadian federal government prepares to release 9.3 hectares of land (about 23 acres), with an additional 12.3 hectares for a possible additional?phase in LeBreton Flats, an empty parcel of land in central Ottawa, a?residential/industrial community until the government expropriated it many years ago.

The government’s local agency (the National Capital Commission) set a competition, inviting four short-list proponents to develop conceptual plans (with compensation of $45,000 just for completing the plan). Two of the short-list candidates bailed out, leaving the other two to compete — and when we saw the proposals at bake-off public presentation, it didn’t take too long to see why the field had narrowed.

The competition rules say that the proponents are not to discuss the overall project cost/budget in public, but the remediation of the land from its brownfields/industrial-era state will cost at least $170 million. The local NHL hockey team, currently playing at a suburban arena, is one of the proponents (it has support from a major national developer and several local builders) and its competitor — a Quebec-based team?also with some exceptionally well-capitalized names) also proposes a hockey arena as part of the site development, and says it will invite the The Ottawa Senators to negotiate a deal to participate in the project, if the Senators’ own proposal fails.

As you listen to the proposals, you can see the marketing decisions, negotiations, alliances and competition all playing out, resulting in two questions: How do you get in the game, and if so, how do you win?

The former question at least is easy to answer: You build on your reputation and relationships to the extent that you can be invited to participate. I sense two of bidders who qualified for the original short list couldn’t bulk up with enough supporters and resources to compete effectively. You don’t need to be a big shot, necessarily, to participate in these opportunities, but you certainly need a track record, existing relationships, and enough capital to?afford the risk and delayed gratification as the “maybe” goes through the selection process.

The second question: “How do you win?” touches on the greatest business challenges we?encounter. Success requires?smarts, creativity, bulk, subtle nuances, public relations, strategic alliances and a fair bit of luck.

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