Ken Ryan – Recession and Opportunity in the Same Sentence?

April 8, 2016

IRVINE, CA—Recession equals opportunity, according to KTGY Architecture + Planning principal Ken Ryan. At the APA 2016 National Planning Conference on April 3 in Phoenix, Ryan led a panel discussion on just that topic. had the opportunity to do an exclusive follow up with Ryan as he shared some wisdom from the panel. Do you have examples of how the last recession led to opportunity?

Ryan: As painful as the downturn was for so many people, there was opportunity and valuable lessons identified in both the public- and private-sector arenas. The City of Anaheim, for example, asked us to develop a master plan that would guide future private-sector development when the economy returned, while taking advantage of the City’s leadership in obtaining political and financial support for moving forward in the downturn with its vision for a state-of-the-art public-transportation center. This phased plan allowed for the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center to be designed, approved and built as the landmark ARTIC, the only Platinum-Level LEED-Certified transportation hub in the country. The area around the transportation hub, named the Anaheim Platinum Triangle, was rezoned for high density/mixed-use, and with the economy returning, the vision established is emerging as a lively transformative district. It’s a place where people want to be. What is the biggest surprise in lessons learned from recession?

Ryan: Our panelist Natalie Meeks, director of public works for the City of Anaheim, shared an interesting insight into working on innovative projects during a recession. She expressed that team work and a broadening of your expertise is critical. Hire experts, but also recognize that it’s important for everyone to not always agree. In fact, hard questions need to be asked and recommendations need to be vetted and challenged. The ability to be nimble is just as important as being right and giving the process enough time to be thoughtful and responsive to the needs of the project. Otherwise, the vision can be compromised. When it comes to planning for real estate, what should we avoid?

Ryan: Mollie Carmichael, principal with John Burns Real Estate Consulting, stated that home buying is triggered by life stage and lifestyle and cautioned that we should never think of all members of a demographic as being the same. For instance, in addition to being a Boomer, one household may still have children growing up, while another is on to retirement. This insight leads to a broader range of choices and property types that meet the needs of individuals within a demographic. She added that top tips for being recession proof are to know who your consumer is, what they want and what they are willing to pay for and to be aware of geographic differences as well. Do you have an example of how knowing the consumer helps recession proof a development?

Ryan: Terry Manley, founder of New West Communities, was able to speak to this from experience. New West’s La Entrada is a 2,200-acre master planned community located along the eastern foothills of the Coachella Valley and serves as a gateway to Coachella from the east. The property is a hillside development that will be phased over time and provide approximately 7,800 new homes within three villages at a variety of price points. The recession and market caused New West to have KTGY help reevaluate what had previously been approved and better respond to the site’s physical and socioeconomic dynamics. Specifically, rather than more golf courses and high-end homes, La Entrada celebrates open space, the public realm and visual as well as physical connections to the valley with less infrastructure and homes that serve the need of local, sub-regional and regional buyers. The revised concept is more inclusive rather than exclusive. Gateway elements focused on a new interchange at the I-10 freeway, with a town center for commerce, retail and places of worship along with a regional soccer facility that also serves as a multi-functional stadium venue.