By Frank Marino, President and CEO, Marino
New York City has always been a city in transition.
Over the last decade in particular, we have seen several new significant neighborhoods emerge, including the Hudson Yards district, Downtown Brooklyn, and a number of others.
The city is now poised to finalize the Midtown East rezoning, which will facilitate the expansion and modernization of this prime business district. Adding state-of-the-art buildings and upgrading existing properties will attract companies and top talent.
Rezoning will serve as a forceful economic catalyst — and set the stage for a modernized district that will be better able to grow and thrive far into the future.
But new neighborhoods — or new projects that fall outside current zoning restrictions — don’t just happen. In some cases, they require significant public/private partnerships. Zoning changes require intensive public review. Developers frequently must successfully work their way through the city’s complex Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which is no small feat.
At Marino, we have helped developers navigate this process over the course of more than 20 years. We’ve provided strategic support to such varied initiatives as the NYU expansion, Hudson Yards, the Chelsea Market expansion, and Kingsbridge Armory — and twice in Downtown Brooklyn.
When zoning changes are required, a developer must tap the services of a public relations firm capable of delivering far more than conventional media placements.
A PR firm will need to take a 360-degree approach by implementing a communications strategy that accounts for the interests and prerogatives of all stakeholders who stand to be impacted by the development.
Create a message-driven plan targeting stakeholder audiences
While architects, planners, and engineers are responsible for developing the initial vision for a development, there is far more to a rezoning than its appeal to such end-users as office and residential tenants, and retailers.
Our agency first counsels clients on all new developments — whether as-of-right or those needing approvals — to look broadly at the full range of stakeholders, especially those with a say in the approval process.
The best communications strategists will help developers appreciate how a plan relates to the public: Who are the local stakeholders? What do they care about? How will possible changes impact them? How will they perceive what is planned?
They will then carefully devise a portfolio of messages tailored to the interests of each key, target audience. In addition to identifying possible stakeholder objections, the agency will also create an inventory of supporters and natural allies. The PR firm then leverages the power of strategic communications to help neutralize critics’ concerns — and to help mobilize active support on the part of allies.
Initiate the campaign
The wave of neighborhood evolution is unfolding across New York City and in the suburbs, too. The advisory work we did in Port Chester in Westchester illustrates the wisdom of a comprehensive approach to land use-related communications. The strategy must address the interests of all constituents, not solely end-users.
In 2006, a real estate entity purchased the 15-acre site of the village’s former United Hospital. It planned to build a multi-family housing development by replacing the mostly-vacant hospital campus. The new vision for the site, still home to 94 Mitchell-Lama households, met strong opposition from the community and from local officials.
Stymied, the owner in 2015 unveiled a new, mixed-use vision designed by Street-Works Development. Marino was then tapped to help mount a communications strategy that would win the support of residents, business owners, community leaders and public officials.
Early on, our agency recommended adjustments to the redevelopment scenario that would demonstrate a stronger commitment to the community and to on-site residents. We then developed a comprehensive advocacy campaign under the banner of “Something New for Port Chester.”
Expand the outreach
In addition to strategic media outreach, we designed and implemented extensive issue-based advertising, along with direct-mail and digital programs. We also launched a systematic stakeholder engagement program, and solicited local endorsements.
After about a year, our agency commissioned a poll of Port Chester voters that found 73-percent awareness of the project. Moreover, respondents were now supporting the plan by a better-than-two-to-one margin.
The turnaround in public sentiment became clear when a holdout tenant representative — previously a vigorous opponent — delivered forceful testimony in support of the project at a public hearing.
Sensing the new attitude, village officials soon also adopted a new and favorable posture. And last March, the village unanimously approved the rezoning.
The planning initiative had been successful by adopting a holistic, campaign-style mindset that had taken into account a full array of social, business, economic, geographic, and political factors relevant to the proposal. See the big picture
New neighborhoods and development projects allow for the growth and evolution of New York City and suburbs alike. But a surprisingly wide array of constituents can help determine whether these initiatives will succeed or fail.
To see their projects through, smart developers will tap communications advisors capable of addressing the interests of every stakeholder that stands to be impacted by large-scale change.