March 24th, 2009
Land Developments with Soul
The Minnesota Orchestra profiled three teenage composers this season:
Mozart, Mendelsohn and Greenberg. Jay Greenberg, currently age 17, completed
his 5th Symphony at age 13. He was interviewed at the concert and it was
fascinating that he wrote all the parts---violins, flutes, drums, etc, at
the same time.
Writing a symphony is a lot like creating a land development. You have many
moving parts that must be executed at the same time: surveying, wetlands,
zoning, etc. They both start with a paper plan and require execution by
capable people to bring the project to life. And both require an audience to
buy into the concept.
So, how was Greenberg's Symphony? The guy I was sitting next to was so moved
to be there. He listened to that symphony every day for 2 years while he was
recovering from Legionaries' Disease. But my friend and I, while we enjoyed
hearing how Jay Greenberg creates music, did not like the work. While the
technical stuff was all there, the music has no "soul".
Hey, your saying, the kid was 13 when he wrote it, give him some slack! But
I have performed a piano 4 hands work that Mozart wrote when he was 9-and
that piece has Soul - I never tired of it in the year we practiced it and it
was the favorite of our audience.
And I also find soul to be critical to land developments. Residential
developers Dan Herbst of Pemtom and Robert Enstrom get this-their
developments are special. While Dan and Robert typically start with
beautiful land, "The Lakes" -a master planned community in Blaine, was
created from 1000 acres of sod fields. Yet "The Lakes" is full of soul. And
Opus carved the award winning Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove from a gravel pit .
Opus created beauty and a vibe that draws shoppers from all over the Twin
Target gets this-I don't like to shop but somehow Target creates a welcoming
environment that encourages me to linger in the store. The Dayton's downtown
Minneapolis store had "soul", but somehow in the transition to Macy's it got
lost. Byerlys and Lunds have it, Cub and Rainbow do not.
So what characteristics make up "soul"? They are the same in music and
development. Number one is an emotional connection. Something that makes you
want to just hang around. For retail the goal is keep you in their store
longer so this is critical. Even more so in residential development-as this
is where you spend the majority of your time, raise your family, enjoy your
Looking at failed developments some can be attributed to the economy. But
not all. Some developments have no "soul" and didn't do well in the boom
times. Builders might have bought lots-but that is more of a business driven
decision than an emotional one. My most sophisticated developer clients
become as emotional as any first time home buyer when buying land for their
Call it "soul", call it "vibes". Its something I'm keenly attuned to, the
first thing - especially when I'm acting as a broker. I specifically walk or
cross county ski a property because its harder to detect soul from the
inside of your car. I had learned the hard way to never ignore a bad vibe.
From developing a property that looked so good on paper-to find the City
Council denied my plat with no reason and my lot buyer was in jail the day
of the closing.
Home buyers very much sense a lack of soul or bad vibe - but they find some
other reason to justify rejecting the property, like the carpet color.
So what would happen if I turned in a valuation report to an assessor that
made a 30% downward adjustment for "lacks soul" or "bad vibes"? If the
Carlson School at the "U" heard about this would they may come and rip my
MBA degree right off the wall? Would my reputation as a data driven land
professional come into question? "Soul" is as much of a data point as
topography. So when appraising properties that lack soul I account for it: I
just call it something more acceptable like "location adjustment".