2019 SUMMER INTERNSHIP SERIES: JOHN THOMPSON, FATHOM COMPANIES

This summer I had the opportunity to join Fathom Companies as a Development Associate. Fathom Companies is a real estate development, management, and investment company based in Portland, Maine. Though Jim Brady co-founded the company only recently in 2017, the combined hospitality management and development experience of its leadership extends far deeper.  For example, Jim’s aptitude for hotel development became apparent nearly two decades ago when he co-founded Olympia Companies, another Maine-based hotel developer and operator.  He has since developed some of the top performing hotels in Northern New England, including The Press Hotel, which is Fathom’s flagship property. “The Press” is an award-winning Autograph Collection hotel, and its construction involved extensive renovation of the former Portland Press Herald building in the center of Portland’s historic urban core (known as the Old Port).  Since opening this hotel in 2015, Fathom Management has been operating The Press at market-leading levels for both occupancy and RevPAR, even despite the proliferation of rooms now coming online in the city.

Exterior elevation of Fathom’s Press Hotel, an award-winning Autograph Collection property completed in 2015. Source: The Press Hotel

Being a relatively new company, Fathom’s development team is quite small. Supported at times by staff from the firm’s other departments, it is not uncommon for a single dedicated team member to take on broad responsibilities. As the sole development team member was out for the summer, the timing of my arrival was favorable. The opportunity exposed me to a wide variety of project management and development tasks I have been honing throughout my career as a construction manager.

I was assigned to oversee the development of Fathom’s second property: a new, 135-room Canopy by Hilton hotel. My start closely followed the issuance of Design Documents, a Certificate of Appropriateness from Historic Preservation (this parcel is also located within the Old Port’s Historic Overlay District), and an RFP package distributed to a selection of local Construction Managers. On my first day, I attended an all-day meeting with Canopy’s Architecture and Design team and our interior design consultants for preliminary approval of our proposed interior design scheme. This was all in preparation for a major presentation to Hilton’s Design Review Committee – a 70+ slide presentation consisting of everything from fabric selections for the lounge furniture to the guest room art packages.  We hired a local design firm to prepare a template for the presentation, and for the next three weeks one of my tasks was coordinating the professional renderings and other content for submission.

Alongside this presentation, my early weeks mostly involved management of the ongoing design development to full construction documents and preparation for the selection of a Construction Manager.  Soon after we received and reviewed the CM proposals, I scheduled meetings with each of the bidding companies’ pre-construction teams for interviews. A primary focus of these interviews was to solicit feedback on value engineering strategies and what each of the respective CM’s would bring to the table during pre-construction.  Once we were satisfied we had narrowed the field down to a single CM, we issued a Letter of Award to the winning bidder contingent on reaching a GMP (guaranteed maximum price) contract that aligned with our project budget.

Today’s market is one in which rising construction costs are the norm and coastal, urban land values are at record highs. I soon realized the importance of bringing on a construction manager or general contractor early in the process.  By enlisting our CM before construction documents were complete, we were able to utilize their knowledge of the local trade environment and materials pricing.  Our design team had stopped progressing documents while the CM selection was taking place, but as soon as we had them under agreement, we were able to schedule a Construction Document kickoff summit at our offices in Portland.  I planned this meeting for the week after the July 4th holiday, and invited all the major consultants and engineers who would play a pivotal role in reducing the construction cost and maintaining the project schedule, all while not compromising the guest experience.

Typical king room inside Fathom’s Press Hotel. Source: The Press Hotel

In the aftermath of this kickoff meeting, much of my daily work again involved coordination of the design and consulting teams towards producing construction documents and preparing for submission for a building permit. In the final weeks of the summer I was also involved in another development project which was just beginning to take shape.  The site was a prospective urban, mixed-use development in burgeoning Biddeford, Maine, and was the subject of a Joint Development Agreement with the City. I organized a charrette with our Master Planner and Civil Engineer as well as with the City of Biddeford and potential users in order to identify opportunities and come up with a preliminary site plan.

Generally, Portland has been a bright spot in the Maine development scene, having received recognition for both its Brooklyn-esque cultural explosion and nationally acclaimed restaurant scene. This internship gave me the opportunity to play a positive role in Portland’s growth – by working with a local, uncompromising development company on the economic expansion of its historic waterfront.  Even today I am eager for status updates, and admittedly, I still get anxious about maintaining the schedule. I hope to return to the Eastern US upon graduation in a similar capacity, and after experiencing the breadth of culture and activity in the Portland area, it remains a promising landing spot for me.

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