Stages 1-3: The Work Before the Work, or Getting to Know Your Government Officials
Stage 1: Zoning
Over the next several weeks, Insights will be examining the 16 stages essential to any successful theme park or museum project. These stages need not necessarily be sequential, but can overlap, particularly in the early phases.
Obviously, any attraction or museum project begins with an idea. If it’s an attraction project, is it a theme park, amusement park or Family Entertainment Center (FEC)? If it’s a museum, what is the focus? Who is the audience (children vs. adults)? Are you rehabbing an existing facility or building a new one? If it’s new build, where will it be located, and who owns the land?
Once these details are sketched out, the client, along with specialty consultants, will begin the 16-stage process. Most developments, whether new or existing build, will require zoning studies and approvals before any planning or design work can begin. The definition of zoning is the “process of planning for land use by a locality to allocate certain kinds of structures in certain areas.” Zoning can include a host of restrictions depending on the zoning area, including building heights, green space and lot usage, density (number of structures in a certain area), and business types. If, for example, the area in which you want to construct your project is zoned for residential use, you may have some trouble getting the project approved unless you can get a variance (exception) from the local zoning authority. Zoning studies are a safeguard for the client, any additional investors and the community in which the project is located.
Stage 2: Government Approvals
After or concurrent with the zoning process, other government approvals must often be obtained, which brings us to Stage 2. Approvals may be needed for such things as permits related to the use of municipal water and sewer lines or points of ingress/egress to and from city roads and highways. It is sometimes necessary to complete a certain amount of preliminary design work in order to obtain these approvals. This can be a lengthy process depending on local conditions, politics and other business and financial realities. In order to potentially shorten this process and create broad-based buy-in for your project (not to mention future financial support), you and your specialist consultants should develop first-name-basis relationships with local government, business and community leaders.
Stage 3: Environmental Impact Study
To round out the pre-design municipal approvals process, most projects will need to carry out Stage 3, an environmental impact study. Because lenders are often required to assume responsibility for the environmental impacts of their projects, environmental considerations (impacts on air quality, water quality, etc.) should be considered early. Again, proactively engaging local government leaders in the process, particularly if your municipality has an Office of Environmental Quality, will mitigate time- and cost-consuming surprises.
Congratulations! You have the approvals. Now, how are you going to pay for your project, and is your project viable? We’ll answer these questions in our next post.