Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
Discipline and Focus
“You have to do what is expected of you by the larger world. You may be a non-profit but you will be cut no slack for that.”
—George Dark, Partner at Urban Strategies; Chair, Evergreen Board of Directors;
and Co-Chair, Evergreen Brick Works Advisory Committee
Transitioning from the scrappy, DIY, grassroots non-profit world into the great big land of real estate development was no easy task. Glenn Garwood remembers early meetings with Evergreen: “In their eyes we could just talk about a one-page agreement and get on with it. That is the height of naivety.” By the end, a team of 85 lawyers with specialties ranging from zoning to finance to environment played a huge part. Evergreen’s team of consultants included over 20 different specialty groups.
With so many voices in the fray, and with more money at stake, decisions became difficult and priorities often shifted. We had to play by someone else’s rules while managing with scarce resources and keeping the vision alive. This required incredible focus and discipline.
Through the design and construction process, a new world of disciplined project management emerged for Evergreen. “One of the things I’ve learned is that most people don’t establish their own deadlines,” says David Stonehouse. “They’re waiting for someone to step in and say, ‘Here’s a target. It may be unrealistic, but we’ve got to go for it.’ I’m always amazed at how people, professionals even, will just meander along without adherence to a time-specific agenda unless you set one for them and make it a common goal.”
Bureaucracy was real and time-consuming. Among our greatest challenges was working through the approvals with municipal and provincial levels of government. more perplexing, there was no precedent for Evergreen Brick Works. This project was not your typical private-public partnership. Not only was Evergreen an atypical developer, but the site, which sits in a floodplain and is protected from development, was also atypical. It is also a provincially designated heritage site with international geological significance and had been expropriated for conservation purposes.
Combine these factors with Evergreen’s own ambitions to create one of the greenest campuses in North America, and it all made for a lengthy process and many, many meetings with numerous bureaucrats from all four levels of government. many departments were involved, including Heritage Protection Services, culture departments, environmental assessment, parks and planning, infrastructure and building departments.
Among Evergreen’s greatest challenges was working with the City’s legal department. Tensions often ran high. It was clear there was no template to follow for any of it, even with experienced professionals on the project. Not only had Evergreen not done this before—no one had.
According to lawyer Kim Harle, “This was quite different from the typical commercial transactions that we work on. It was a ‘new school’ project, and we were dealing with counter parties who were working in an ‘old-school’ environment. And there was a lot of work and coaxing and bridging and interpreting with Evergreen to bring people over.”
To help break the tension, Glenn Garwood recalls encouraging parties to take the larger view. “Step back for a second,” he remembers saying at meetings. “Where is the public interest? The public interest is not leaving this site stuck and derelict.” This required the recognition of each party as a contributor stakeholder in a larger process of many related parties with one endgame.