Contract - Perspectives: Tom Sargent

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Perspectives: Tom Sargent

14 April, 2009



Tom Sargent
Principal
Equity Community Builders, San Francisco

What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?

Co-founding with John Clawson, Equity Community Builders, as a locally focused development firm that has kept to its original mission: to develop responsible, community-oriented, infill projects, while specializing in historic rehabilitation, sustainable development, affordable housing, and nonprofit tenants. We kept to our intention of generating 50 percent of revenue from project management fee work and 50 percent from projects in which we are owners. We have produced significant landmark projects including the Thoreau Center for Sustainability, Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker (see page 58), David Brower Center, and the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

Working on all aspects of a project from concept development and acquisition through design, financing, legal, construction, and often property management, then seeing the space utilized by people.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of sustainability facing designers and developers today?


The biggest challenge is being able to sort through the product and systems data to understand the true impact on energy use and the environment. For instance, a product may help reduce energy on an ongoing basis, but impacts from manufacturing, transportation, and installation may be less "green." Projects are already so complicated that this added layer requires significant commitment, although it is getting easier as mainstream industries join the movement.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in working with historic properties?

It's difficult getting historic reviewers to understand the need for historic buildings to work for contemporary users. If people do not feel comfortable in a space, then there will be little public support for preserving historic buildings. The historic tax credit is essential to keep in place. Adaptively rehabilitating historic buildings is one of the most sustainable actions a developer can take.

What is the best thing you've learned in the past 10 years?

Persevere, persevere, persevere…Real estate development should be a commitment to long-term investment, involvement, and decision making. The Native American notion of making decisions for the "seventh generation" to come is a good one. We need to lengthen our timeline for how we think about what we build and reduce our short-term economic expectations.

What advice would you give to developers or designers just starting out in the field?

Again…Persevere, persevere, persevere, and make sure that you do not believe fully your first pro formas, budgets, or cost estimates. There is satisfaction in getting something built, but if it does not go as planned, you want to be sure that you have thought out the contingency back up plans.

What do you consider to be the worst invention of the last 100 years?

The gasoline driven combustion engine located in an individual driving machine. Cars by themselves are a great invention, but the overall impact of the combustion engine on our
quality of life is extreme and needed modification and re-thinking about 40 years ago.

What would you like to leave as your legacy?

A few successful projects that bring joy and inspiration to people, that stand the test of time, and that hopefully remain economically viable and socially and environmentally responsible.

How do you foresee the future of sustainable design and development changing?

Sustainable design is going mainstream, if it is not already. The challenge is to not lose sight of the diligence that is required to test and research all products and systems. With regard to real estate development, we need to consider in every project's initial analysis: "Is this really necessary, and does it help the broader community and environment?" If not, why should it be allowed or as a responsible developer why go ahead? I am sure that any project could be justified because it generates jobs, sales, or property taxes, etc. But we still need to start asking the question because it forces clear thinking about the justification beyond sheer opportunistic thinking about the economic potential. The economic potential is not always fulfilled, and if not, you want to be sure that you have not negatively impacted the social fabric of a community or the surrounding environment.





Perspectives: Tom Sargent

14 April, 2009


Tom Sargent
Principal
Equity Community Builders, San Francisco

What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?

Co-founding with John Clawson, Equity Community Builders, as a locally focused development firm that has kept to its original mission: to develop responsible, community-oriented, infill projects, while specializing in historic rehabilitation, sustainable development, affordable housing, and nonprofit tenants. We kept to our intention of generating 50 percent of revenue from project management fee work and 50 percent from projects in which we are owners. We have produced significant landmark projects including the Thoreau Center for Sustainability, Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker (see page 58), David Brower Center, and the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

Working on all aspects of a project from concept development and acquisition through design, financing, legal, construction, and often property management, then seeing the space utilized by people.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of sustainability facing designers and developers today?


The biggest challenge is being able to sort through the product and systems data to understand the true impact on energy use and the environment. For instance, a product may help reduce energy on an ongoing basis, but impacts from manufacturing, transportation, and installation may be less "green." Projects are already so complicated that this added layer requires significant commitment, although it is getting easier as mainstream industries join the movement.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in working with historic properties?

It's difficult getting historic reviewers to understand the need for historic buildings to work for contemporary users. If people do not feel comfortable in a space, then there will be little public support for preserving historic buildings. The historic tax credit is essential to keep in place. Adaptively rehabilitating historic buildings is one of the most sustainable actions a developer can take.

What is the best thing you've learned in the past 10 years?

Persevere, persevere, persevere…Real estate development should be a commitment to long-term investment, involvement, and decision making. The Native American notion of making decisions for the "seventh generation" to come is a good one. We need to lengthen our timeline for how we think about what we build and reduce our short-term economic expectations.

What advice would you give to developers or designers just starting out in the field?

Again…Persevere, persevere, persevere, and make sure that you do not believe fully your first pro formas, budgets, or cost estimates. There is satisfaction in getting something built, but if it does not go as planned, you want to be sure that you have thought out the contingency back up plans.

What do you consider to be the worst invention of the last 100 years?

The gasoline driven combustion engine located in an individual driving machine. Cars by themselves are a great invention, but the overall impact of the combustion engine on our
quality of life is extreme and needed modification and re-thinking about 40 years ago.

What would you like to leave as your legacy?

A few successful projects that bring joy and inspiration to people, that stand the test of time, and that hopefully remain economically viable and socially and environmentally responsible.

How do you foresee the future of sustainable design and development changing?

Sustainable design is going mainstream, if it is not already. The challenge is to not lose sight of the diligence that is required to test and research all products and systems. With regard to real estate development, we need to consider in every project's initial analysis: "Is this really necessary, and does it help the broader community and environment?" If not, why should it be allowed or as a responsible developer why go ahead? I am sure that any project could be justified because it generates jobs, sales, or property taxes, etc. But we still need to start asking the question because it forces clear thinking about the justification beyond sheer opportunistic thinking about the economic potential. The economic potential is not always fulfilled, and if not, you want to be sure that you have not negatively impacted the social fabric of a community or the surrounding environment.


 


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