Winning Land Use Fights: The Power of Reputation

By Patrick Fox, The Saint Consulting Group

Successful land use battles are the result of many factors, but one often underestimated by developers is the power of reputation.

Across all of the industries in which we work, we partner with industry leaders — companies that have the integrity, foresight and long term vision to understand that problems on a project today will haunt their projects long into the future.

Everett United volunteers rally the crowd on election day.

A current project offers a dramatic illustration. Wynn Resorts is attempting to secure the sole regional license for a destination resort hotel and casino in the Boston area. A crucial hurdle involved winning a referendum vote in the host city of Everett, Massachusetts.

While the American Gaming Association’s annual poll in 2012 showed that 85 percent of Americans believe that casino gambling is “acceptable for themselves or others,” the Saint Index, our international survey that quantifies opposition to development projects proposed “in your community,” shows opposition to casinos at 74% in the United States. Casino opposition in Canada and the UK is even more intense, with 83% of residents in both countries opposing casino development in their communities. This intense NIMBY factor ensures that winning approvals for a casino is a tough challenge virtually anywhere.

Concentrating on an extensive field operation that brought together diverse groups, rival political factions and a highly dedicated and active group of volunteers, Wynn’s campaign in Everett was not about media ad wars but about door-to-door personal interaction, neighbors calling neighbors and precinct- and apartment building-level organization. While more time and resource intensive, a campaign of this type builds deep and enduring support and higher potential for success.

The Wynn Resorts referendum resulted in a stunning 86.5% victory with very strong voter turnout. Those numbers are virtually unheard of in elections of any sort but are especially remarkable for a land use that is ranked among the most controversial and opposed uses.

Land use approvals are very difficult to achieve these days, and it is increasingly difficult to navigate processes often dominated by fear of change and cynicism. While many factors go into winning a vote of this type, client reputation is a key element in any successful campaign.

It is simple for any concerned resident, activist or motivated competitor to look up and document your sins of the past and launch them into your current campaign. Nothing is forgotten and no issue fades away forever.

Wynn Resorts has a tremendously strong brand name. They are known as the very best operator of casino-anchored resort hotels in the world, and they are consistently ranked as one of the best places to work. They are the industry leader, led by a charismatic and innovative entrepreneur. Steve Wynn has spent his career building a reputation as a man of his word. He has a long track record of following through on his promises and spectacularly exceeding expectations.

Achieving a victory with more than 86% of the vote is unheard of and is about more than just a well-executed campaign. We are extraordinarily proud of our work on this project, but after more than 1,700 land use fights across three countries, we understand how invaluable it is to start with an industry-leading client with a stellar reputation. In this age of internet archives and social networking, broken promises, deceptions and unmet expectations will follow you forever, infecting every project you attempt to build regardless of where it is located.

State of the art campaign techniques, cutting edge technology and the most experienced land use political team in the world can only get you so far if you have not protected and preserved your brand name and your reputation.

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