Building Community Support for Project Permitting, Construction, and Marketing

Redevelopment is replacing new construction throughout the Greater Boston area, as construction costs climb and the commercial/retail vacancy rate reaches new (and alarming) levels.

Redevelopment of highly visible, publicly owned or historic properties~ such as shipyards, air bases, and historic mills ~ involves all the usual steps of Federal and State permitting and approvals, and the additional layer of permitting involving historic, archeological and cultural review and approvals.

At every one of these steps, community or political opposition can bog a project down, and that means lost time, lost revenues, and significant expenses while people and equipment sit idle, as developers go back to the designers, planners, and lawyers for revisions. Just as important is the potential negative public relations impact on development plans: once opposition becomes vocal and reaches the media, it can spread like wildfire, creating additional challenges and expenses for the developer.

Redevelopment projects can displace people and create opposition, and develop a negative momentum that's hard to turn around. But, with longer-term planning and community involvement, redevelopment can help communities feel a sense of investment, involvement and continuity by engaging the community in celebrating its past to build its future.

Engaging the Community Proactively

The Hingham Shipyard project developed by Paul Trendowicz, President of Sea Chain, Inc. is a case in point of positively and proactively engaging the community around redevelopment. The former Bethlehem Steel Shipyard was built in 1942 to support the war effort. The shipyard produced 277 ships, and employed 30,000 people. It was closed in 1986, and bought in 1997 by Sea Chain, Inc., as the site for a $250 million redevelopment project for mixed use; high end condominium residential units, some affordable housing, and 200,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

Public relations and community relations were part of Sea Chain's strategy from the beginning, to win community support for the project throughout the planning, construction and marketing phases. The development was to be called Hingham Shipyard and the history of the place and its community would be part of its cachet.

As part of the community relations project, public relations counsel The Cohn Group proposed the creation of a foundation on site to preserve the history of the Hingham Shipyard and integrate it into the community's awareness of the project as it progressed. Sea Chain helped create and fund the Hingham Shipyard Historical Foundation, a nonprofit organization that would acquire and make available historic and archival information and memorabilia.

The Foundation in turn funded the lynchpin of the community relations program: creation of a thirty minute, broadcast quality video, in which the people who had worked in the shipyard told its story through their own recollections of the war years and the shipyard's contribution to a growing community.

An advisory group of prominent local citizens was created, and helped to identify the individuals, stories, archives, and private and public archives of mementos from the shipyard's peak production years of building ships.

The video includes historic news footage, photographs and interviews with employees who stayed on in Hingham and built their families after the war.

The video, "Remembering Hingham Shipyard," was edited to a format suitable for airing on WGBH, which accepted it not only for broadcast but for repeat showing during pledge weeks, and for use, by the Social Studies Department of Hingham Schools. It was shown for the first time at a community gala at the shipyard's main building, and was attended by some 500 local Hingham residents, including town and regional officials. Throughout the process, the video and the Sea Chain plan were covered consistently, favorably and from a variety of perspectives by local daily and weekly papers, reinforcing a groundswell of community support.

Positive Media Coverage Sustained

Throughout the process, the local media, especially daily and weekly papers, were invited to meet with the developers, advisers and featured residents, to learn more about the shipyard's history and the redevelopment project. Outreach resulted in a steady drumbeat of positive coverage, as individual storylines created multiple opportunities for news and feature articles. Most articles and editorials mentioned Sea Chain and credited it for underwriting the Foundation and the video, praising the developer's commitment to the community.

In March 2001, The Patriot Ledger's Carrie Levine wrote, "If all goes according to plan, the Hingham shipyard will soon resemble an upscale shopping center rather than a former military installation. But those nostalgic for the shipyard's glory days- when workers built destroyers during WWII- are in for a treat ? Sea Chain, which plans to develop the site with condominiums and thousands of feet of retail space, funded the video, and has said they plan to include a historical center in the new plans. The redevelopment proposal is scheduled to be heard before town boards next month."

James Kirkcaldy, Director, K-12 Hingham Social Studies Department, wrote that "The Hingham Shipyard Project is a great teaching tool? a lasting legacy? and a unique example of a redevelopment project with care and patriotic spirit making a difference in a community's identity."

Ultimately, the Planning Board's approval of the plan cited the video and the foundation as a major influence in approving the permits throughout the pr ocess, as evidenced by commentary of many local leaders in the community, the conservation commission, the Planning Board itself, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Lessons Learned

Even though the developer and the Planning Board did not agree on all requests, a positive and mutually respectful relationship continues. Sea Chain's Paul Trendowicz told The Hingham Journal, "The (Board's) contributions have resulted in numerous improvements to the redevelopment plan for the shipyard. The board's attention to design and legal issues and to defense of community values should be appreciated by the town, as they are by Sea Chain and its consultants."

Community relations that acknowledge the importance of the history of a place and how its community connects to it can greatly improve the chances of a smooth development and permitting process, as the Hingham Shipyard did in several specific ways:

? The early development of a foundation to anchor the program as a nonprofit project established credibility and public interest

? Building a community advisory board brought in respected community opinion leaders as a source of ideas, and these early adopters became constructive critics and champions of the overall project.

? Engaging the community in telling its story created a deep investment throughout the community in seeing the project through, and appreciation for the Foundation that would preserve its history and their stories for future generation.

? Sea Chain built up a reserve of good will by proving itself a good corporate neighbor, and learned in the process what problems would arise, and what compromises would be workable for all concerned.

? The permitting process was completed in a smooth process and in good time, with the constant interest and support of local papers and people.

Sea Chain has created a cachet about the Hingham Shipyard which will give it prestige and interest in the marketing phase: it's a property people will be glad to own and lease, in part, because of its intelligent use of history in creating a new future for the community.

In The Hingham Journal, editor Mary Ford wrote, "? thanks to the developers and the Hingham Shipyard Historical Foundation, area citizens who will someday occupy the shipyard condominiums won't forget how local members of what Tom Brokaw calls "The greatest Generation" made a contribution on that same piece of waterfront property that helped turn the tide of war."

"Redevelopment projects take a substantial commitment of time and resources", says Trendowicz, "and we wanted the community to know we respected its history enough to honor it, and make it part of the distinctive nature of the project. It was a win-win approach."

Marty Cohn and Ann Getman are senior level public relations practitioners and frequent collaborators, with over 20 years experience each. They can be reached at or

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at


Read the mud-slinging pitches Facebook's PR firm sent us
Facebook's latest PR crisis has cast a lurid spotlight on a GOP-led publicity firm called Definers Public Affairs, after a New York Times investigation revealed last week the firm had sought to discredit Facebook critics by, in one instance, linking ...
Twitter PR pros call out Facebook's 'garbage move' of blaming its comms teamPRWeek
Facebook's Zuckerberg, Sandberg Hit Rock BottomO'Dwyer's PR News
Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook's Leaders Fought Through CrisisNew York Times
Wall Street Journal -Business Insider -Business Insider
all 273 news articles »


Your turn to explain: 'What the [email protected]$ is PR?'
This profession is, admittedly, one that can be hard to describe to someone outside the industry. Now, it's your chance to turn the tables. We want you to make a short video of you asking your parents, children, or family members to explain what PR is ...

Muck Rack Says Journalists Want Relationships With PR on Social
PR News - For Smart Communicators (blog)
In a way, journalists and PR pros make strange bedfellows. One one hand, the two professions are siloed into clearly competing ideologies—journalists seek to report facts and objective truths, while communicators shape narratives to promote their ...


4 Tips to Launch Your First Effective PR Campaign
Before you even start researching PR firms, think first about the meaning of publicity -- and what you want out of it. According to Business Dictionary, publicity is the “type of promotion that relies on a public relations effect of a news story ...

and more »

PR is Paramount for Tech's Continued Growth
O'Dwyer's PR News
Bubbles, booms and unicorns, we've seen them all. The indisputable dominance of technology and the radical transformation it's had on the way we live, work, socialize and relax appears to be at an all-time high. If you're not a “tech” company in today ...

Business Wire (press release)

Vested Named Top Place to Work by PR News
Business Wire (press release)
Recipients were chosen by a panel of public relations pros as well as the staff of PR News, which called recipients those “whose outstanding performance in establishing an engaging workplace allows employees to enjoy their work and help their companies ...

and more »

Facebook's ex-PR firm also behind sites attacking Apple and Qatar
The PR firm hired by Facebook to discredit its critics with online articles also carried out campaigns against Qatar, Apple, and American environmentalists. Last week, Facebook found itself at the centre of yet another throbbing mess. A New York Times ...
Facepalm moment for Facebook: A secret operation to malign criticsEconomic Times

all 4 news articles »

Media Update

Video: 10 Steps to creating a great PR event strategy
Media Update
Event planning may be part of your job as a PR pro – but how do you go about creating the perfect event strategy? No matter the date of your occasion, the number of people you need to attend or the press coverage, these 10 steps will help you get the ...

and more »


PR agencies rebranding as PR agencies - please stop
My question was this; how, in 2016, are we still having a panel debate on whether the PR industry should still call itself PR? Have we nothing else to discuss? Fast forward to 2018 and I am staggered to see we're not only still talking about this ...


Why Purpose Is Important To Your PR Strategy
While pursuing B Corp status aligned with our overarching goal of having a purpose beyond profit, it also became our most important and highest performing public relations (PR) story of the year. Many of the major travel outlets, and even business ...

Google News

Media Relations: How We Landed on the Wall Street Journals Front Page

Media relations is a great profession.On good days, I earn... Read More

Why You Should Write a Book (Even if You Really Dont Want To)

Recently, I told a friend (who's a business owner) that... Read More

The Most Important PR In America

Just happens to be public relations activity that alters individual... Read More

Financial Planning Publicity: When Talking to the Media, Dont Fake What You Dont Know

Relationships are based on trust-not just romantic relationships, or doctor/patient... Read More

Is The Traditional Press Review Still A Business Tool Of The Future?

Press reviews are a common and basic feature for surveying... Read More

Trade Show Tactics Revealed

Being part of a trade show gives small business a... Read More

How Managers Hurt Their PR Results

Business, non-profit or association managers hurt their own public relations... Read More

Starting A Publicity Program

Successful buisnesses know that media attention reaches consumers better than... Read More

When Should You Outsource Your PR Efforts?

1) Do you NEED solid, consistant media exposure...week after week,... Read More

Radio Interviews - How To Get Them!

Getting on the radio can be a great tactical move... Read More

Submitting A Press Release Can Benefit Your Business

A Press Release is a captive story that can be... Read More

VIP Database; Does Your Company Have One?

The VIP databases are fun to create and can be... Read More

Asian Media Relations: Increase Your Profile and Image in China

China's media is booming creating opportunities for marketing-savvy businesses. But... Read More

Media Training 101: When 60 Minutes Knocks On Your Door

You never know when 60 Minutes will knock on your... Read More

Marketing-Minded Financial Planners, Focus on Main Points During an Interview

You never want to inundate a reporter with information, but... Read More

PR - More Than News Releases

Public relations and news releases are synonymous in the minds... Read More

Pressure From the Top?

Yes, and that pressure often comes from a CEO who... Read More

PR: Advice You Didnt Ask For

Although, as a business, non-profit or association manager, you may... Read More

A PR Question For Chinese Managers

As the practice of public relations in China continues to... Read More

Leveraging Your Reputation - Making PR Work for You

We rely on all kinds of tools and advice to... Read More

Guerrilla PR- Chapter One

THE NATURE OF MEDIAThirty years ago, Marshall McCluhan, the father... Read More

10 Tips for Tantalizing News Releases

Want to get radio interviews and coverage in print publications... Read More

Best Approach For Free Advertisement

Product/service publicity is the superhighway to business success everyone dreams.... Read More

Driving Near School Buses in Company Vehicles

School BusesWhen approaching a school bus: Slow down; If the... Read More

Public Relations Writing: Write Better Press Release Headlines With More Impact in Less Time

Public relations writing when writing press releases can be a... Read More