Rick Tripp is a Principal with Michael Schuster Associates (MSA), a design firm offering architectural, interior design and project management services. MSA has vast experience in the design of public safety, court, administrative, and municipal recreational facilities.

Over the past several years, Rick Tripp, has witnessed several trends – among them, creative options for strategic planning for government affiliated capital projects.

MuniNet: How did Michael Schuster Associates develop this unique niche?

Tripp: Most municipalities are run by intelligent people who are focused on the day-to-day operations of running a community. But when it comes to strategic capital improvement planning, many of these people lack the resources to come up with creative solutions. Many of our earlier jobs began with our firm providing consulting services on community planning or renovation projects – public safety buildings and sports and recreation facilities. What we discovered with our clients was that with a little planning, work and analysis, the community was able to execute capital projects involving several departments simultaneously – achieving an economy of scale and creating a larger impact on the community.

MuniNet: What trends have you seen in the public service sector over the past several years?

Tripp: Municipalities have been very proactive in seeking ways to broaden their mission statements to include the large-picture goals of the community. From seeking creative strategies for leveraging assets to identifying community needs, we’ve seen several trends in local government, including:

  • A greater focus on strategic planning for government affiliated capital projects, including a concentrated effort on leveraging capital improvement projects for inter-departmental collaboration, consolidation, and potential joint public/private partnerships;
  • The development of joint service agreements, where communities examine the feasibility of collaborative agreements that include sharing capital expenses, the procurement of equipment, and creatively sharing personnel; and
  • The redevelopment of downtown urban areas along with rural suburban areas, leaving a void for the first- and second-tier suburban communities, who often seek our input and services in an effort to spur their economic development.

MuniNet: How can counties, cities, and townships creatively leverage their assets to reinvent themselves?

Tripp: Municipalities can – and should – explore many avenues when considering ways to invest their resources.

We have found one very effective strategy for stretching capital services dollars a lot further is to co-locate facilities. By mixing activities, several benefits ensue. In some cases, co-locating facilities can help establish the center of a community – particularly in areas without an existing downtown area. In addition, sharing resources can be an effective way to increase government efficiencies. Creating a “one-stop-shop” for government services eliminates the segmented perception of government departments and agencies. The resulting synergies can have a very positive effect on the community – residents and employees alike.

MuniNet: Can you give an example of a community that employed this co-location strategy?

Tripp: The City of Mason, Ohio – located just north of Cincinnati – has experienced explosive growth over the past several years. The city is well positioned within a thriving business corridor and boasts an excellent school system. Our firm helped the City develop a master plan for a site that established a center for the community that included a new city hall building, a new high school, and a new community recreation center.

The project involved the construction of a new city hall, and a new high school, each handled by separate architectural firms. The city manager and a city council member liaison worked with representatives of the school district, who worked together to identify the recreational needs of the community. From there, our firm developed the overall site concept for the new recreation center, which was built contiguous to the high school. The high school retained the architectural firm that designed the actual center, and the city paid a portion of the capital expenses involved in the construction. The staffing and costs of the day-to-day operations of the rec center are shared by the city and the school.

MuniNet: Are certain strategies more appropriate for older versus newer communities?

Tripp: Absolutely. Different types of communities – first-tier suburbs, loop suburbs, and exurbs – are all facing different issues, and therefore require different solutions.

Take the example of Springfield Township Ohio, a first-tier suburb, with a population at around 40,000. The suburb is all built out, with aging infrastructure and flat tax revenues. Its overall population is no longer increasing, but calls for police and fire service are on the rise due to a changing demographic. Working with the township administration, we came up with a plan designed to maximize existing the infrastructure to create a focal point for the community.

We recommended that Springfield construct a new fire department headquarters on the campus that housed its township administrative offices, recreational fields and senior citizens center. This capital investment was also executed in tandem with improvements made along a major county commercial road.

These improvements made possible increased private commercial development which included a renovated shopping center and numerous new commercial businesses. Thus a $10 million public investment spurred a $30-$40 million private investment in the community.

MuniNet: How are these innovative plans generally financed? Have you seen any creative financing strategies?

Tripp: Depending on the parameters of the project, there are generally several financing options. The most common three are:

  • Cash/operating budget transaction – cash needed to finance the project comes directly from the municipality’s operating budget;
  • Bond financing – the municipality issues a debt instrument for the purpose of raising capital for day-to-day activities or a special project; and/or
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) – similar in concept to a bond issuance, this tool helps a municipality undertake a public project in an underdeveloped or blighted area by using the taxes generated by increased property values to pay for land acquisition or public works.

For more information about strategic planning, joint service agreements, financing tools, and examples of recent projects, visit the Spotlight and Portfolio sections of the impressive Michael Schuster Associates web site.