Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Big Project

The last two weeks have been extremely busy. We were awarded a huge portfolio project down in the Bay Area consisting of over 30 industrial properties with over 5 million square feet. The work is standard Phase I ESA with asbestos sampling and visual mold assessment. Our client is one of the largest real estate investment advisors in the country. This potential acquisition exceeds $1 billion and our fees alone are somewhere in the quarter million dollar realm. The due diligence period runs to the end of March. This is a huge project with a fast burn.

We did a lot of preparation before going in the field. We set up field folders for each property that included property information, map and directions to the property, a site plan, an aerial photograph, an environmental database report, tenant review forms, and asbestos bulk sample logs. This way each field team had everything they needed for the field – just grab a folder and go. We also set up a website on our company intranet where we could store and dump documents, photos, and other relevant project information. Everyone on the team has access to the website so information is easily shared and accessible. And this not only includes the field team but also support staff back in the office.

We assembled a team of 10 for the field that included folks from three different offices. We have four teams of two for the site visits and a project manager and admin person for support. I’m on one of the field teams and also acting as an assistant project manager. I have years of experience working with this client and on these types of portfolio projects. The assembled team is truly the “A” team with experienced senior professionals and talented staff.

I’ve been down in the Bay Area for the last week. I flew down last Sunday to get a good jump on the project. I had bruised or cracked ribs as a result of a fall during my CityLeague recreational ski racing on Thursday night. I went skiing again Saturday afternoon with my boys. Needless to say, by the time I left Sunday, I was in a little bit of pain. The wrong move, a laugh, a cough, or a sneeze would induce a knife-like pain in my side. To make matters worse, I was lugging two file boxes in a big suitcase plus a smaller suitcase for my clothes, my laptop case, and a daypack with my personal gear including a jacket, water bottle, snacks, book, and other stuff to get me through a delay or lost luggage. At SeaTac, I tipped the Doug Fox Parking shuttle driver extra. I asked him if he could give me a hand with my luggage. He said “I have two hands.” Good answer.

The Bay Area had wind warnings up and it was a bumpy thrilling ride on approach to SJC. I dislike SJC. It’s a cramped terminal despite expansions. It’s a far walk to get the rental car shuttle (wheeled luggage – best thing since sliced bread). The shuttle buses are always stuffed with people. I have Budget FastBreak – show my drivers license and go to my car - this time a Pontiac Vibe hatchback wagon. Perfect.

For the site visits I’m teamed with a younger guy project engineer from one of our other offices. We hit it off from the start and I knew the week would go well. And it did. We fell into an easy groove going from property to property, building to building, and tenant to tenant. He does the tenant interviews and I collect samples of suspect asbestos-containing building materials (he’s not qualified to collect samples). I chime in a few questions to the tenant where appropriate to focus and keep things moving. He’s thorough and detail oriented, maybe a little too much for the pace we need to keep. But he’s personable and good so I let him go with it. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I size up tenants quickly and focus right in on the important information. We don’t have a lot of time and we need cut to the chase, figure out the deal killers or what will need further investigation.

We’re all staying in a fancy-schmantzy suite hotel for a really good government contractor rate. There’s a happy hour with free drinks and breakfast made to order. The rooms are large with a front room, kitchenette, and a bedroom. There are even two TVs, one in the front room and one in the bedroom. My room was on the fifth floor with a great view looking east to the front hills of the Diablo Range.

The weather was good for the most part, with a mix of short-lived showers and sun breaks. On Friday a cold air mass invaded the Bay Area dropping the snow level to around 1,000 feet. It was beautiful seeing the green hills topped with a dusting of snow.

The team all gathered on Friday afternoon to put together property summaries for the client. I focused on one of the properties that had a historical release of organic solvents. The property owner (seller) is listed as a responsible party (RP) in the cleanup. If our client buys this property, they could also become an RP. These are the types of “big picture” items that are important to convey to the client.

The hard part about these huge projects is that the other work and client responsibilities don’t stop. I drafted two proposals during the evenings, responded to many emails, and fielded phone calls. With my laptop I’m always connected. We have a company VPN that ties me in to our system. My laptop also has IPass that allows me to connect from just about anywhere in the world with a hotspot, plug-in, or phone jack.

I flew out Friday evening back home to Seattle for the weekend. Some of the team are staying over the weekend. I’ll be back Monday morning as we wrap up the field work.

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