Every February, UNC Kenan-Flagler invites 16 of the top business schools to compete in the UNC Real Estate Development Challenge, a case competition centered around a specific real estate development project. Four second-year students – Ed Crocker, Mehegan Easley, and Hunter Weaver and I – were chosen as the team to represent UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2018.
The case put each team in the shoes of a real estate development firm responding to a Request for Qualifications for a 2.2-acre site in Washington, D.C. owned by Howard University. We were asked to develop a project that maintained historic features of the site, met Howard University’s and the surrounding community’s needs, and generated long-term economic benefits for all stakeholders. While this task was daunting, our team was well prepared given our mix of backgrounds, knowledge of the market and commitment to bringing the trophy to the hometown team.
We received the case on a Thursday afternoon and had until Sunday evening to compile an entire financial model and presentation. We brainstormed what types of uses we could put on the site and how we would position those uses. Hunter’s background in construction, Ed and Mehegan’s knowledge of the D.C. market, and my financial modeling background allowed us to settle on a mixed-use development called Marshall Place, which would feature ground-floor retail, apartment units, some office space and a hotel.
Through a lot of hard work over those three days, many practice runs of our presentation, and two tough presentations later, we were able to claim first place and bring the trophy home to UNC Kenan-Flagler for the first time since 2015! The experience was very rewarding and expanded my knowledge about real estate development.
First, I learned that development is just as much art as it is science. We used the financial model to consider what sort of uses would generate the maximum return as well as how to structure our deal with our partners. It was just as crucial, though, to consider how the community would receive our uses and whether Howard University would want them. Development takes not only knowledge of financial modeling and construction processes, but also creativity, brainstorming and a lot of trial and error.
Second, I learned that development takes a dedicated, diverse team. Without a doubt, without our teammates’ diverse backgrounds and commitment to creating a winning project, we would not have been able to achieve victory. In real development projects, I’m confident the team is just as important as the development site and idea. It takes a lot of talent to create a successful development.
Finally, I continued to learn the importance of networking in the real estate industry. By bringing together 64 talented real estate students and 16 judges, we had plenty of opportunities to network and make connections. These connections will continue to serve us well in our future careers as they could lead to future employment opportunities or development projects.
By Alex Griffin (MBA ’18)