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How to Hire the Best Civil Engineer for Your Retail CRE Development


Hiring a civil engineer for your commercial real estate project is going to be dependent on a range of factors, all of which need to be deeply examined to ensure that they can best serve your project. You should research and vet a healthy range of civil engineers to ensure that you find the professional that will best fit your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the important factors that you will need to consider when hiring a civil engineer for a retail development. 

Project type and location determine your needs

Location, Location, Location

When you are looking to hire a civil engineer for a retail development project, one of the major factors that you need to consider is going to be their knowledge of the property location. Have they worked in the vicinity of the property location previously? They will need to assess the raw land, and available infrastructure for development, so location-specific knowledge could prove a major benefit to your project. 


Hiring a local civil engineer, one that is located within the city or county, means that they usually have established relationships with the municipality that you are looking to entitle your project within. Local civil engineers also should understand their region’s typical soils issues, traffic design requirements, and any state stormwater reporting requirements. 


There are also cost savings to be realized by utilizing a local civil engineer when on-site meetings are required during design or construction. These meetings would prove exceedingly costly and time-consuming if the engineer was not local. A good rule of thumb to follow is that the civil engineer should not be located more than 2 hours from the physical site being developed.   

Current knowledge of regulatory requirements

It will also be vital to ensure that the civil engineer you hire is up-to-date with not only the current regulatory requirements for retail construction in the area where your development is located but also proposed updates to these requirements. These requirements can shift and update relatively quickly, and the ideal fit for your development is going to need to be aware of these changes before they go into effect. 


A local civil engineer is going to understand their region’s soil and earthwork issues, which will determine how grading and drainage need to be addressed. An engineer who works in the arid Southwest US is not as versed in something like hydric soils or major precipitation events commonly found in the Pacific Northwest on a daily basis. Local civil engineers should also be knowledgeable about the necessary off-site traffic design requirements, and any state stormwater reporting requirements when the property is above 1 acre in size in that state.


A good civil engineer will also interface heavily with the local municipality’s public works department, or the state stormwater authority, on their design for the proposed development. A good working relationship between the civil engineer and the municipality department in question is going to be a necessity, as this can be a complex and time-consuming process. 

Type of Project

Ground-Up Development

A ground-up development typically requires grading and drainage, new utilities installation, paving, and stormwater plans to all be performed on-site. The off-site work that can also be required could include design for public streets that connect to the proposed site, left- and right-turn vehicle lanes into the retail center, center median improvements, traffic light signalization, street light installation, and even public utility line extensions of great lengths. 


Existing developments may already have most of these design requirements met and will require minimal civil design updates to match or connect to existing infrastructure with the new designs. This tends to result in far lower design costs than ground-up developments for a civil engineer, as instead of starting from scratch, they simply need to verify the property is prepared to support the new design from already design plans.

Verify their Qualifications

Licensing and accreditation

It is going to be essential for the success of your project that the civil engineer you hire has the appropriate licensing and accreditation. This will mean confirming that they have all of the appropriate license stamps needed so that a civil permit can be issued by the government agencies that manage the region your project is located within. 

Evaluating Land-Use knowledge

Because of the constantly changing land-use regulations with new development design, you are going to need to ensure the engineer is up to date with current development standards and common retail design practices that retailers users typically require.  A good example is experience with drive-thru retailer users, and the recent drive-thru vehicle stacking requirements a municipality might require of your site to ensure customer traffic does not back up into a public street. Careful design to maximize stacking along with the use of double drive-thru lanes are some good site design examples.


This will also be a good time to evaluate the frequency, and quality, of their past experiences. The amount of exposure to different design teams that they hold should prove to be a good indicator of the level of experience and knowledge that they possess. You should ask them about the recent projects they worked on, and what the scope required for the design was, to get a better understanding of their experience level. 

Look at teamwork skills

Effective communication

You want a civil engineer that can work constructively and efficiently with a large and varied team including architects, surveyors, landscape designers, traffic engineers, structural engineers, wastewater, biologists, mechanical engineers, plumbing engineers, and electrical engineers, whenever changes need to occur within the site. 


Sometimes, being a local civil engineer means that they are the only “boots on the ground” consultant with the municipality, so they may also need to handle full plan submittals, public hearings, and interface with the local city government for the site, problem-solving issues that could extend beyond civil design work. The ability of an engineer to speak to a city politician or developer in easy-to-understand terms or to provide comparison examples is critical because these people tend not to understand the complex engineering side of what is required on a site design.

A team player, not a pushover

You are also going to want to always be challenging your civil engineer, and asking them direct questions. It is going to be their job to find creative engineering and design solutions to the toughest design challenges of your site, and they are typically geared towards this way of thinking naturally as an engineer.  

Quick and professional responses

The civil engineer that you hire will need to be capable of answering all Requests for Information (RFI’s) as they come from general contractors once the project has started construction. They will need to be able to address any “surprises” that arise in the soils once work starts with grading, and until the project completes construction. They may also be required to go into the field and meet on-site to come up with a design solution that was on paper proved not an option in the field.

Review proposals 

Much like hiring with other vendors and contractors, you will want to get multiple proposals from different civil engineers for honest pricing of the needed scope from differing civil engineers’ opinions. These proposals should allow you to verify four (4) things about a civil engineer. 


First, it is another check on their project comprehension, and the type of technical design knowledge they will bring to your project. 


Second, it will help to define the scope of the project, which if not properly laid out can lead to confusion, mistakes, added costs, and delays for your project.  


Third, it will lay out the design team responsibilities and client expectations, the roles of the civil engineer and other design consultants, and the individual experience of all involved. 


Fourth, it will allow for the design budget to be set, and hopefully held by the civil engineer’s proposed scope. 


While the local development standards and the civil engineering sciences that each civil engineer will need to follow seem similar, the way that each design firm handles these can be quite different. The best fit civil engineer for your development project is going to be one that can not only keep the project designed as much as proposed by the client’s needs, but that can efficiently and professionally work with the rest of your construction and development team to deliver it on time and under budget.



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