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UB earns top finish in national intercollegiate real estate development competition

UB’s second place team at the Colvin Case Study Competition at the University of Maryland, College Park. From left to right: Lisa Hicks, professional mentor David Stebbins and Amy Downing. Photo courtesy of the Colvin Institute for Real Estate Development, University of Maryland, College Park

By Stephanie Bucalo

Published December 22, 2016

UB’s new real estate development graduate specialization, which launched in 2015 in the School of Architecture and Planning, has made its mark on the national stage. Two student teams earned second and seventh place finishes in an intercollegiate real estate competition that drew entries from top real estate programs across the U.S.

The Colvin Case Study Challenge, sponsored by the Colvin Institute of Real Estate Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, called for teams to document a recent innovative real estate project within their own metropolitan region. Case studies written by student teams were judged on the depth of their understanding of markets, project valuation, finance, urban design, entitlement processes, and operational issues by leading real estate professionals.

UB real estate development graduate students Amy Downing and Lisa Hicks presented a case study on 500 Seneca, a $44 million mixed-use adaptive reuse project in Buffalo’s historic Hydraulics District, by Savarino Companies and Frontier Development. They emerged as one of four finalists from a large field of entries, earning the opportunity to present their case study at the final juried competition event held earlier this month in College Park.

At the finals, Downing and Hicks finished in second place. First place went to Columbia University and third to Clemson University, with an honorable mention for the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The top four teams earned cash awards, including a $5,000 award to Downing and Hicks. Their case study will be published in the Real Estate Review, a national real estate journal.

A second UB team of Daniel Crowther, Camille Farkas and Sean Flury placed seventh with their case study on One Canalside, a $30 million mixed-use project on Buffalo’s historic inner harbor, by Benderson Development, which also earned them an honorable mention.

UB’s two teams worked closely with faculty and professional mentors, and consulted with their project’s development team as they researched their case study.

For 500 Seneca, Downing and Hicks analyzed the the strategies used in redeveloping a 320,000-square-foot former industrial building, including building rehabilitation techniques, sustainability measures used in both interior and exterior design, and community engagement. The case study also focused on the project’s complex financing, which involved federal and state historic preservation tax credits, Brownfield rehabilitation credits, investor equity, and bank loans.

Downing and Hicks studied Savarino Companies’ 500 Seneca, a former industrial building in Buffalo that was converted into a mixed-use facility with residential, commercial and office space. 

Both students say the competition put into practice the skills they’ve gained throughout the program. UB’s real estate development specialization, a three-semester track in the MS in Architecture program, integrates study of market analysis, finance, community needs, the urban environment, architecture and construction management in a practice-based curriculum with instruction from faculty, developers, and real estate professionals.

“It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. You really can't place any sort of value on the real world experience that we gained,” says Hicks.

Added Downing: “The 500 Seneca project was of great interest to Lisa and me, and our work with partners at Savarino and Frontier went very smoothly.  The development team provided us with answers to all our questions and gave us all the information we needed to write and present a great case study. It was a wonderful affirmation to be selected as a finalist.”

Mark Foerster, UB senior fellow in real estate development, served as a faculty advisor for the competition. Buffalo Urban Development Corporation Vice President David Stebbins, an adjunct instructor and member of the real estate advisory committee, served as professional advisor.

“Amy and Lisa worked very hard on this project, and their final presentation in front of the panel was excellent. I was very proud of the way they represented UB against much more established real estate programs,” said Stebbins, who traveled to College Park with Downing and Hicks for the juried event.

Added Foerster: “This is an outstanding achievement for Amy and Lisa. They did a fantastic job analyzing the decision making behind 500 Seneca, and they arrived at many great insights and takeaways about what makes this adaptive reuse so special, from both financial and community impact perspectives.”

“Coupled with our other team’s top-7 finish, our results in the Colvin Competition are great evidence of the quality of the students in our program, and of how well we compare to the top real estate programs,” he continued, adding that this is the first intercollegiate competition in real estate development for UB since the master's degree specialization was offered just over a year ago.  

The competition was also rewarding for the developers who advised the students.  “Just participating in the case study process was valuable for my team. Sharing knowledge across the profession and academia is exactly why we got involved in UB’s program,” said Samuel Savarino, president and CEO of Savarino Companies and a founding member of the real estate development advisory committee. “With Lisa’s and Amy’s second-place finish, we now see 500 Seneca – and the story of Buffalo’s rebirth – shared on a national stage.”

For more information about real estate development at UB, visit www.ap.buffalo.edu/real-estate-development.