By: Sarah Ritchie
In graduate school, I encountered the 25-cent word praxis, which I came to understand was the marriage of theory and practice….the hands-on application of “book knowledge.” For young people studying business and real estate, taking classroom lessons into the real world is often the most engaging, effective way of learning. The power of practical educational opportunities was on magnificent display at the recent ICSC Texas Conference in Dallas where three collegiate teams participated in a first-ever ICSC Student Case Study Competition.
Many months ago, a group of Texas volunteers, under the leadership of Texas State Director Kendra Hinderland, made known their desire to stage an undergraduate case contest, to be part of the annual Texas Conference, in the autumn. To be sure, there are numerous well-known case contests in which real estate students may compete. For instance, ULI administers the Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition and NAIOP hosts inter-collegiate “NAIOP Real Estate Challenges” in various locations around the U.S. Similarly, numerous academic programs in business and real estate, including the University of Texas, MIT, USC, and the University of North Carolina, among others, host student contests. What made the ICSC Texas Conference effort unique was its focus on undergraduate students (as opposed to those in graduate school), as well as the emphasis on a retail real estate problem.
After extending invitations to seven Texas college programs in business/real estate (and the University of Oklahoma….which I suspect may have been thrown in because of the lobbying of yours truly, a die-hard OU alum), three teams participated in the case presentations at the Conference, November 6-8, 2013: Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Texas Dallas.
Each team consisted of four students, who were selected in consultation with faculty advisors at each school. The assembled teams were given an original, specially-crafted hypothetical case study two-weeks before the Conference. According to Jace Hinderland, a recent SMU graduate who spear-headed the effort, the coordinating committee sought to fashion a research problem that integrated the major disciplines of retail real estate—finance, leasing, development, and the like. Although each student team had been paired with an ICSC volunteer liaison who stood ready to provide professional guidance, the students were largely on their own to develop an “answer” to the central questions of the case.
The project, in a “hypothetical city,” focused on a distressed shopping center property, now in the hands of a financial institution. The property was without an anchor tenant and suffered from a high vacancy rate, with impending eminent domain issues being leveled by the municipal government. Participants were asked to put forward re-development plans to stabilize and re-invigorate the property, which would ultimately be sold by the financial holder.
Douglas Hermann, representing the winning UTD team, explained that the teams were given relevant demographic and financial information. With the support of their school mentor Michelle Miller, Director of Corporate Relations at the Jindal School of Management at UTD, and several professionals who provided consultation during the preparation phase, the foursome created a comprehensive plan, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and copious handouts, that was delivered to the all-star roster of 8 judges at the Conference.
According to Hermann, “Our team demolished the 30,000 sq ft anchor tenant and re-built 15,000 sq ft, with the hope of leasing the new space to CVS, Walgreens, or Aldi. We used the other space for additional parking, bringing the property up to city codes for the parking ratio. We also wanted to move The University Spirit Store, a current tenant that was occupying a prime end cap, to the other vacant suite in the center. Our idea was to bring in a Starbucks in that space. Finally, we proposed putting an outparcel building for a single tenant ground lease, which we could sell off in year 3 of the project.”
While the winning proposal was straight forward, its development was labor intensive. Says Hermann, “Personally, I spent at least 40 hours preparing for the presentation. On top of that, we spent many hours working together as a group. It was an incredibly intense experience. But we were thoroughly prepared for our pitch, as well as the 15 or 20 minutes of judges’ questions that followed. We anticipated many of their concerns, and because we’d spent so much time focusing on the project, we were able to confidently respond to the judges’ critiques and questions.” He goes on to say, “This has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate career.”
Stephanie Jacobs, also from the UTD team, added, “I enjoyed the creative aspects of the case study. And, beyond the actual contest, there were fantastic networking opportunities before and after the competition. Our efforts were well-received, and we enjoyed great positive feedback from many industry people at the meeting. This was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.”
The other UTD team members were Tryna Hammond and Karmen Lau. The winning team received a $4,000 scholarship award, provided by the Texas Platinum Sponsors including CBRE, Edge Realty Partners, Fidelis Realty Partners, Hunt, The Retail Connection, UCR, ViewPoint Bank and Weitzman/Cencor. TCU’s team consisting of Robert Taylor Baker, David Belpedio, Jarrod McCabe, and Matthew Thomas Harrison placed second, earning a $2,000 prize. Also participating were Ying Zhi Low, Jason Long, Andy Hechavarria, and Daniel Morales, representing UNT.
Special thanks go to organizers and judges: Elizabeth Allen, Director of Leasing, RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust; Patricia Bender, Executive Vice President, Director of Leasing, Weingarten Realty Investors; Denise Browning, Senior Vice President, Madison Marquette; Rick Gillham, President, Gillham, Golbeck &; Associates, Inc.; Doug Hazelbaker, Senior Managing Director, HFF, LP; Jace Hinderland, Associate Vice President, Rockwood Real Estate Advisors, LLC; Kendra Hinderland, Texas State Director; John Maggiore, Director of Development, EDGE Realty Partners; Steve Sumell, Trademark Property Company; and George Sakakeeny, Partner, AdVenture Development, LLC.
Plans are already being discussed for future competitions, based on the excellent contest at the Texas Conference. Ms. Miller of UTD, who has worked in the real estate industry, summed up her students’ experience in this way, “When UT Dallas was invited to participate in this brand new competition, I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime for our student team. It’s was a professional development and networking opportunity that any real estate professional would have loved to have had in their younger years. Our students were committed to winning this competition, and I was so proud of each of them for doing exactly that!”
All this goes to show that collegiate classrooms go well beyond the ivy-covered walls of the University. Congratulations to all involved!