Most professional land developers think of the civil engineer as a necessary evil–responsible for the boring task of making water flow downhill, but not much beyond that–all while costing a substantial chunk of the development budget.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When you partner with the right civil engineer, they’ll turn “making water flow downhill” into a metaphor for making your entire project run smoothly from concept to closeout, and getting your doors open fast, so you can start seeing a return on your investment sooner rather than later.
Here are 4 ways your civil engineer can make your projects more successful.
Commercial construction projects are by nature complicated, but there is a difference between necessary complexity and cascading complications that impact your profitability. Before your land purchase and as a member of your design team, your civil engineer should identify and compile all land requirements and ensure that the particular parcel is suitable for that use.
They’ll check that your site plans are in compliance with all regulations and are a good fit for the community and location. They’ll check for proper utility and road access connections, evaluate site conditions, and plan for and oversee the mitigation of environmental impacts. The sooner in the project that your civil engineer is attentive to these matters, the less impact any complications will have on the project’s process.
A great civil engineer will not only review all of these matters but will make recommendations and provide solutions that reduce complexity and improve outcomes.
Just because a site has the right acreage and location, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for your use. Your civil engineer should be present during site selection and acquisition, and up to date on your usage requirements. They can identify potential technical site issues caused by topography, environmental constraints, and even community concerns.
They can help you understand the likely costs of mitigation for any of these issues, and provide valuable insights for early-stage decision-making. By making decisions based on accurate technical information early, you as the developer can save money, avoid costly pitfalls, and create a better project.
In this way, your engineer not only makes literal water run downhill (and away from your project, into a correctly designed water containment facility), they make your process run smoothly from beginning to end, resulting in a correctly designed and profitable outcome.
When most people imagine an engineer, they may think of an aloof professional in an office tower, focused all day on numbers and plans. Yet on a private commercial project, the role of the civil engineer requires a finesse for people and communication, as they are tasked to navigate the political landscape, in order to realize a client’s vision.
Civil engineers are charged with looking out for the health and welfare of the general public, and need to be sensitive to the desires of the community, in order to bring together their needs with those of the developer. As every developer is aware, new commercial development can sometimes face resistance from members of the community. Civil engineers have to be able to understand and communicate all of the impacts of a development clearly during public meetings.
This too is a form of “making water run downhill.” When managed badly, the political and community process can be painful, costly, and feel like trying to push a rock uphill. But a skilled and knowledgeable civil engineer will have ensured that the project is appropriate for the community and location before the process begins, and can communicate their findings clearly and skillfully to officials and the public in a way that helps the project stay on track.
Civil engineers also help with the continued maintenance of an asset throughout its lifecycle, from the day it opens to the day it closes. They’ll help you maximize the value of your real property with ongoing enhancements, updates, and renovations, while minimizing costs. And once the development has outlived its life expectancy, the civil engineer will be there to help demolish it and start over.
As an example of how a civil engineer can maximize value during a property’s life span, consider the case of a mall developed during the 1980s, with an appropriately sized (for that time) parking lot. Today, that same parking lot will seem sprawling and oversized, an enormous waste of space. A good civil engineer might help a property owner carve out perimeter parcels to develop into gas stations, fast food restaurants, and other uses, and thereby create value out of practically nothing, adding to the owner’s bottom line.
In this way, too, the civil engineer helps “water flow downhill” where “water” is “money” and “downhill” is “to the property owner.”
Not every civil engineer has the experience, background, drive, and willingness to be all of these things for the developer. But now that you know everything a good civil engineer can do, you can seek out engineers who can meet all of your technical needs and also become a true development partner.
At GLE Associates, we’ve been partnering with commercial developers for 30 years to help them avoid pitfalls and develop successful projects. We’d love to talk with you about your next project.