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LOS ANGELES-A new generation of public-private partnerships could emerge in the coming years as a means of rebuilding California’s aging infrastructure, stimulating economic development, creating new jobs and setting the stage for the next round of real estate development, according to speakers at a ULI panel Friday. The event, hosted by the ULI’s Los Angeles District Council, explored how planners, developers, architects and contractors can leverage federal economic stimulus funds and the $40 billion in County Measure R funds approved in November into significant growth by rebuilding roads, bridges, public transit, water lines and other infrastructure elements.

As ULI Los Angeles executive director Katherine Perez tells GlobeSt.com, public-private partnerships–in addition to replacing aging infrastructure and aiding economic development–could help set the stage for the next round of real estate development when the economy recovers. “What we’re doing now is getting ready for the next cycle,” Perez says. Getting ready for the next cycle, she says, “means we’ve got to put the new infrastructure in place for the new developments to occur.”

Perez, who was a vice president of development for Forest City Development before assuming her ULI post last year, explains that public-private infrastructure partnerships differ in a number of respects from the public-private partnerships that have been employed to develop mixed-use and city redevelopment projects in recent years. Most of those developments were designed on a parcel by parcel basis, resulting in a piecemeal approach to upgrading infrastructure, but public-private infrastructure projects would be “a much more integrated, systematic approach to addressing infrastructure,” she says.

Friday’s ULI event included speakers who described how public-private partnerships have been used for years to build infrastructure in the United Kingdom and Canada–and in fact have become the preferred approach to repairing, replacing and developing infrastructure. The UK has been at it for about 17 years and Canada for about seven to nine years, utilizing the public-private structure to build highways, transit systems, ports, ferries, bridges, toll roads and other public systems and facilities.

As with all development, one of the crucial questions is financing, and Perez notes that speakers from the private sector on Friday expressed both an interest in financing the new generation of public-private partnerships and a concerns about their viability as investments. Among those from the private sector who spoke were former California Treasurer Kathleen Brown, now a senior adviser with Goldman Sachs & Co.; Celeste Davis, managing director of capital markets with the Royal Bank of Canada; and Laurence Pelosi, managing partner with McKinley Partners.

In essence, Perez says, the private sector financial advisers say that they are willing to participate in the public-private infrastructure partnerships but they have some caveats. “They pick their partners very carefully, and they need to be convinced that the projects will provide them with a reasonable return,” Perez notes.

The public-private approach is not only welcome but is encouraged at the top levels of state government, according to Dale Bonner, California’s secretary of business, transportation and housing. Bonner told the ULI crowd that with the challenges that the state faces, the state is eager to find funding mechanisms for much-needed infrastructure developments. He noted that the state, with a population of 38 million, is getting by with an infrastructure designed for a population half that size.

Perez points out that public-private infrastructure partnerships may not seem appealing to voters who have little faith in either the public or the private sector, but the ULI hopes to foster support for such partnerships through educational forums and discussions. The emphasis is on how such partnerships can help to keep people employed, promote economic development and rebuild crucial systems and facilities throughout the state. A central part of the message is that the water and sewer systems, energy grids, public facilities and other infrastructure projects are “systems that everybody uses and everybody benefits from having,” Perez says.

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