Joe Miotto,
Vice-President Planning, NORR Architects Planners Inc.

With nearly 30 years experience as a Land Development Consultant, Joe is considered a leading professional and a valued strategist in the resort development community. His keen understanding of economic strategies and market sensitivity, coupled with his vast knowledge of physical land planning, has earned him the trust of numerous clients throughout North America.

"My philosophy has been to always operate as if you are in a recession, therefore everything which exceeds those expectations is a bonus and it positions you to truly deal with the challenges of weak market conditions.

In other words, don't over build, don't over service and don't over price."

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Calgary Real Estate Forum: OCT 21
Q: In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges facing the resort industry today?

Project Financing and Consumer Confidence.
Over the past year,  we have dealt with many projects that have either been cancelled, stalled or gone into receivership due to both of the above factors. The cancelled and/or stalled projects typically fall into this state due to lack of financing combined with a market that has all but "dried up." This has especially been evident in the United States where we have conducted the majority of our work over the past 10 years. The receivership-type projects are responding to a lack of market confidence where previously committed buyers, usually stemming from pre-sales marketing programs, pull out of a deal and fail to close on the purchase agreement. In many cases the prospective real estate purchasers have the funds, but have become more wary of real estate investment because of a lack of confidence, perhaps due to worries associated with job loss, falling stock market prices and similar economic factors.
Q: From an architecture and planning stand-point what trends are you witnessing? How is the lifestyle-oriented mentality of buyers affecting planning and design today?

Unit layouts in the resort market have typically incorporated an open floor plan and we believe this trend still exists. However we are noticing that smaller more affordable units tend to be increasing in demand during the current economic environment. We are also noticing that expensive lots in resort communities have significantly fallen in demand compared to townhouse and duplex products which are more affordable. In fact many resort developers are offering heavy discounts for all unit types to reflect the overall recent adjustment in the real estate market.
Within this context however we have noticed a strong propensity among developers to utilize market strategies that capitalize on the "Green" movement. However,  we believe that the consumer is not necessarily totally captured by this strategy as the end purchase price combined with monthly strata fees is usually what wins over the purchaser in the end. In addition, we have noticed that developers are starting to gravitate away from certain Green strategies as many of them translate to higher capital and ongoing operational costs, which in some case render a project economically infeasible to implement.  Green strategies can be implemented, however, a full understanding of each specific initiative needs to be fully vetted before becoming an inescapable element of the project.
Q: As we move into 2010 what piece of advice can you offer the industry based on what you know today?   

The advice I can provide from my perspective leading up to 2010 and beyond is as follows:
*Seek and obtain your land use approvals now while the market is down. It will probably be easier with less public opposition given the need for economic development and associated employment opportunities. That way you will be better positioned to sell when the market turns around - and it will turn around!
*Don't commence or get involved with any resort or land development deal unless you have the necessary financing to complete. That includes paying all soft costs as they become due and managing and paying hard costs as required. Lack of financing will inevitably lead to project delays, usually when you can least afford them.
*Make sure you have your market research and economic model defined before commencing physical planning. This will ensure that the project is economically viable prior to going too far with the project.
* Always plan for a recession - they tend to occur every seven to ten years! Recent history tells the story.
Q: It has been said that we are in a time where we should go "back to basics;" the days of celebrity-type signatures (i.e. Gary Player golf course, Arthur Erickson design and so on)  attached to resort amenities and buildings are long gone. Is there a mentality of understated design, quality and value that is reappearing in consumer mindsets?  

I don't believe that the days of connecting with celebrity type signatures are totally gone. It depends on the market and the project location. Some locations may require this approach in order to secure a market share. That said, I am of the opinion that this type of approach was probably never required for many projects. It became a trend with the foreign resort developers (mainly Japanese and Chinese in the late 90's) investing in North American resort projects. However I am not sure this ever really translated to improved success in marketing these projects. For example, the signature golf course is an example of unnecessary and in my opinion, unjustified, costs for services provided by the signature golf course designer which only served to increase playing costs and thus alienating much of the prospective golfer market. In Canada we have some very competent and well respected golf course architects who do a fabulous job at a much reduced cost. Many recent projects have proven that with these consultants on the team the golf product is superior and this has translated to successful project marketing.
To the point of getting back to basics with understated design, quality and value in consumer mindsets, I would agree. The market has dictated such. However, if the proper market research and economic analysis is performed at the outset of the project, these fundamentals should have always been present in the approach to project development. It just makes sense, whether the market is strong or weak. My philosophy has been to always operate as if you are in a recession, therefore everything which exceeds those expectations is a bonus and it positions you to truly deal with the challenges of weak market conditions. In other words, don't over build, don't over service and don't over price.