January 10, 2019

Building for good times: Reed Cordish talks Cordish Cos. strategy

The Cordish Cos. has built a big part of its development business around the fact that Americans love to have a good time, especially when it comes to sporting events. The company's Live! developments — like the $250 million Texas Live! entertainment district in Arlington, Texas, which, for instance, is strategically located between the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium and the Texas Rangers' future home, the $1 billion Globe Life Park — serve both as a game day draw and a destination for both locals and visitors looking to enjoy themselves in the offseason.

Reed Cordish, company principal and partner, made time to talk to Construction Dive about the development of these projects, the planning for a $2.5 billion, riverfront mixed-use district around the Jaguars NFL stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, and the approach the firm takes to the construction process and the involvement of local contractors.

Construction Dive: You don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy a Live! development, do you?

REED CORDISH: That's right. We broaden the spectrum of people who are coming out to these areas. We're taking something — a stadium or arena district — that traditionally has only been vibrant when there's a game or a concert, and we're making it vibrant 365 days a year. Everyone has ownership of it. It becomes like the living room for that community. It's a place where they go to celebrate or to watch a big game or to just have fun. And it works perfectly for the people who are going to the events at the stadium district because they start coming earlier and staying later, making it a full experience, which is terrific as well.

So more than just a replacement for tailgating?

CORDISH: Right. We use entertainment to create that energy and to get people going to these areas all the time, and then we build from there and create a best-in-class microcity — residential, hotel, office — around it. So at the core is entertainment, and then we create these really great mixed-used city developments and it all becomes a true neighborhood.

Do you decide which professional sports teams to pursue for Live! developments, or do they pursue you?

CORDISH: Generally speaking, we've been contacted by the sports teams themselves. An owner will have seen one of our projects like Ballpark Village that we did with the Cardinals [in St. Louis], or the Texas Live! that we just did with the Rangers and Cowboys, or the Live! at the Battery with the Braves [in Atlanta]. They'll have really been drawn to the energy and excitement, to creating a better use of the land and even a better fan experience, and they contact us. And we help attendance. I think it's one of the reasons why owners are so aggressively seeking us out.

We'll then dive in and see if that area works well for what we do. Occasionally, a city will reach out, but more often than not it comes from the teams because they often own the land around the stadium or arena.

What sort of real estate do teams typically provide for these developments?

CORDISH: Each of our projects has taken the place of these giant parking fields that have no life to them. When there's not an event, they just sit empty. It's pretty ugly oftentimes.

How does it look for the project with the NFL's Jaguars in Jacksonville?

CORDISH: It does take real time to build something of that size and that magnitude. We're working incredibly hard on it. We've got a great partner in the Jaguars, and we're very bullish on it. We do feel that through a series of openings over a multi-year period we can create a really great mixed-use entertainment development on that site.

It's a big investment. In your deal with a team like the Jaguars, do you insist they agree not to relocate to another city, at least for some period of time?

CORDISH: No. But our thought is that we're creating such unique districts, such strong developments, that they become major draws and attractions unto themselves. So we don't need a stadium event or game to drive our traffic. So, while we prefer having the team there as a great anchor, it's not necessary. In fact, we've opened [developments] in a lot of downtowns (e.g. Louisville; Kansas City, Missouri; Baltimore) that don't have professional teams and do extremely well. Last year, our Live! districts welcomed more than 50 million visitors. That's the first time we've broken that threshold.

Who handles the design and construction of Live! projects?

CORDISH: We have in-house construction, design and architecture expertise overseeing the entire development process. But in each market, we work with the local contracting community — architects and general contractors as well as subcontractors. We pride ourselves on not only achieving but exceeding all local contracting and all minority contracting goals. We are very proud of our record. For example, at Texas Live! we facilitated the formation of a minority joint venture between general contractor Manhattan Construction and a minority contractor called Con-Real.

How do you draw contractors and subcontractors in such a tight labor market?

CORDISH: We're lucky. These are really exciting, high-profile projects, so we have an advantage. If you're a major contractor or subcontractor in the market, you want to work by the Cowboys and Rangers stadiums. You want to work with the St. Louis Cardinals. Second, I think The Cordish Cos.' reputation with the general contracting community is very strong, and that helps us as well.

What kind of contractor outreach do you typically do before starting construction on a project?

CORDISH: We do a lot of work to make sure that the whole contracting community, minority and non-minority, is aware of the project far in advance and has a firm understanding of it. For each phase, for example, we'll do pre-bid kickoffs, where they can learn about the project and ask questions. The more transparent you can be, the more contracting interest you get. The contracting community gets nervous when there are seemingly unanswered questions or a lack of transparency. We try to put as much information out in as clear a way as possible, and that helps us a lot.

Are there opportunities for smaller contractors on Live! projects?

CORDISH: Because of the local hiring goals that we put on ourselves and that the cities like to see, that almost by definition brings in a lot of small subcontractors and contractors. And then we also have a lot of specialty work. Our projects are pretty intricate, so we'll bring in local artists and all levels of the contracting community.

What role does technology play in the Live! construction process?

CORDISH: The new technology is really helping the architects in the design process considerably. You can really feel the space before it's built. I can't tell you how many issues it's helped us resolve, both from a constructability and design standpoint. And it's really helping from a contractor standpoint. One thing we implemented at Texas Live! was new software that allows quick and easy access to plans. It's a portal that allows us to communicate those plans out to all contractors and subcontractors. It's part of that transparency that I was talking about earlier. It does not replace that critical personal interaction, but it is a helpful tool.

The projects you build have so many components. What are some of the challenges inherent in that?

CORDISH: I think that the key for us is we make every effort to keep the team working through any stress points together. It begins with the designers, then the architects, other consultants, the general contractor and subcontractors. If you can keep that team functioning together, you get through it. Also, the plans have to be as complete as humanly possible, and you need to resist changes to the plans because the ripple effects are always extreme.

We're always under the gun because we have to get these projects complete for opening day. I'm very pleased to say, we've never missed one.

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