The following is my posting on Frances' blog:
I have still not had time to read the report, but that won’t stop me from commenting briefly!
In terms of the selection process, public agencies generally use either a single stage, or two-stage proposal call to select the winning proponent. The latter generally involves a ‘Call for Expressions of Interest’ to PRE-QUALIFY proponents in terms of expertise, financial capability, the proposed consultant team and sometimes a written design concept or approach.
A short-list of proponents is then expected to do much more work in terms of preparing their detailed bids.
Now again, after pre-qualification, a public agency has a choice…it can make the selection on the basis of price, or design, or a combination of the two. In other words is this a design competition, or will the winner be the team which offers the most money andcomplies with all of the project requirements.
Based on my experience with many such calls, I prefer to place the emphasis on one criterion, or the other, rather than both. However, if the project is complex, such as this one, it is not unreasonable to evaluate a range of criteria. However, it is normally expected practice that the issuing agency will advise the short-listed proponents of the selection framework in advance, with a clear indication of the relative weighting of criteria.
While proponents may not be told the precise weighting for design concept, price offered, construction methods and time frame, special features, other financial considerations (eg: timing of payments, proposed profit sharing, etc.) etc. etc. it would be normal practice, in my opinion, that the relative weighting of criteria be pre-determined by the evaluation committee BEFORE the evaluation process begins.
Let me add, that in a two stage call, when proponents have been pre-qualified, it would be most unusual to disqualify a team because of lack of financial capability or expertise, unless there had been a significant change in its circumstances from the time the initial short-list was prepared.
Now many have asked why the city didn’t ask for a financing commitment before the selection. Answer…. because it was impossible. No lender would give a firm commitment until it had seen the detailed proposal including design drawings, cost estimates, appraisals, geotechnical reports, etc, etc. Instead, all it could offer is ‘a letter of comfort’ saying it knows developer x and is willing to provide the necessary funding provided the developer submits satisfactory documentation….etc….etc.
And as noted, in this case there was the added complication of the city’s desire to retain title to the land until after completion, because of the Olympics obligations. The significance of this requirement cannot be understated.
In terms of cost over-runs, they are more likely to occur on a ‘fast-tracked’ project which starts construction before all the plans and building details have been finalized and all the fixed prices have been received for the structure, windows interior finishes, etc. And that’s what happened here. Furthermore, as others have noted, this project was undertaken during a period of unprecedented construction price increases.
Some additional thoughts:
In considering this proposal call, which if I remember correctly was a two stage call, it is worth reflecting on the earlier Woodwards proposal call which was also managed by the city.
In this case 4 teams were shortlisted including Millennium. After short-listing, two of the four teams combined resulting in three proposals…while I do not know pretend to know all the details of the bids, I do know that the highest financial offer came from Millennium…however, they were proposing a high-rise tower which was considered less desirable than the much lower, and much ‘greener’ form of development by the Westbank team. Westbank won, and then built a very high tower!
In this case, I understand that Millennium’s bid was significantly higher than the other bids….perhaps in the order of $50 million more, when one considers a variety of factors. Now, if the city had accepted one of the other bids, and Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed, and Fortress hadn’t got into difficulty, how many of us would have questioned why the city left SO MUCH MONEY ON THE TABLE?
I have to comment on a recent article by Miro Cernetig, a highly respected Vancouver columnist who chastised the city for pretending to be a condo developer with the intention of building these units and then flipping them after the games for a profit. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
The city got into this project decades ago with the intention of re-creating the success of the earlier phases of the South Shore of False Creek redevelopment, but this time with an even more sustainable, model community. It never set out to develop condominiums. Rather it set out to convert derelict industrial land into a new community.
The city did the overall plan, and committed to building a new seawall and parks and necessary services. It was always intended that the serviced development parcels would be offered to private and non-profit developers who would build the housing. This is what happened back in the 70’s and this was always the plan.
The city’s situation changed however, when the city staff decided to seek one developer, rather than a number of developers, and the one developer it selected could not get financing because the city would not transfer title to the land.
I repeat, that’s when the city’s situation changed from what had happened in the past, and what has happened in literally hundreds of similar proposal calls on public land around the world.
Because the city would not transfer title, the lender wanted the city to provide a guarantee to the lender essentially equal to the proposed value of the land (less the deposit). AT THIS POINT, THE CITY CHANGED FROM BEING A LAND DEVELOPER, TO A PARTNER IN THE DEVELOPMENT. Did they do this because they wanted to be a developer of condos and flip them for a profit after the games? Of course not.
The situation further changed when the lender decided not to make further advances, and the city had the choice of either seeing construction stop, or paying for construction to continue. We all know what happened. (I certainly remember because once the council’s ’secret’ decision became public, many of my potential voters decided to stay at home!)
A final thought. As I noted, a major problem was the law department’s insistence that the city not transfer title of the land until after completion. As I said, this deterred all Canadian banks from getting involved, and Millennium was forced to seek financing from a more expensive lender willing to accept higher risks.
It also resulted in the city having to give a guarantee and then assume direct financing. In many respects, this was the major factor in the current situation….rather than the decisions of Cope, NPA, or Vision Councillors or most staff, in my opinion.
If the law department hadn’t required that the city retain title, the project would have been financed by RBC or CIBC or HSBC and even though the cost over-runs would still have occurred, one can reasonably assume that the lender would have continued to finance the project since it too would not want to see Canada embarrassed by not finishing the housing on time and…..
And this is an important point that keeps getting forgotten, A private lender would also know that it COULD CALL ON PERSONAL GUARANTEES AND OTHER ASSETS that were pledged as security, if the developer defaulted.
While some have questioned whether these assets have value, I suspect they do. Just go over to West Vancouver and see what Millennium is doing there. (I don’t know the extent of mortgages, but I do know that there is usually a higher equity in land holdings than other forms of property.
I’ll be curious to know how KPMG evaluated these assets, recognizing that they are worth significantly more today than they were last December. In other words, in determining the city’s exposure, how much did they assume could be recovered from corporate assets and other security? How much could be recovered today?
So to conclude, there are lots of people one could try to blame, but in reality, the situation changed because of the desire to seek one developer, rather than a few; legal requirements imposed by cautious lawyers; the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the major shift in world financial circumstances; undue optimism by Millennium and its advisors and perhaps questionable judgment in accepting a price for the land that seemed too high (you may remember that I told this to Jeff Lee at the time, although to be fair, I thought Millennium had over-paid for other sites and they ended up doing very well, thank you),
It’s a complex story, but in my opinion it is difficult to say that any councillors acted recklessly or improperly; similarly I can’t say the staff were stupid or irresponsible….
Finally,I believe the current Council and administration have done a good job in trying to address the problems that have occurred in the past. However, as we move forward I do hope they will stop blaming Kim Capri and Elizabeth Ball and other NPA councillors because as I have tried to explain, this is not a simple matter. It is definitely not their fault!
And let’s not forget that the Fairmont condominiums that are just being completed were sold at an average price in excess of $1500 a square foot…and in my opinion, many of the condominiums in the Olympic Village are better than many of the condominiums in this building. So even if the costs end up at $1100 a square foot or whatever, it is not out of the question that the eventual revenues will be sufficient for Millennium to repay the loan to the city, and still make a small profit.
I could be wrong….I’ve been wrong many times before when trying to anticipate the price of housing…but it’s not out of the question.