As Baker Program in Real Estate students returned to campus in late January, several were immediately occupied for hours on end, holed up with their teams as they crafted submissions for the annual Urban Land Institute-Hines Competition. This annual real estate case competition pits graduate real estate students across the country against their peers from other top graduate real estate programs. Each team is tasked with forming an interdisciplinary group to formulate and recommend a large-scale development program for a real-life site. As such, the teams of five are required to feature students from at least three different academic programs. Five teams represented Cornell this year, with each comprised of graduate students from a combination of the Baker Program, City and Regional Planning, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture.
This year’s competition challenged teams to devise a comprehensive, transformative plan for the Tulane/Gravier and Iberville neighborhoods in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. The main objective is to develop a strategy for the neighborhood, backed up with mandatory site plans, architectural renderings, and comprehensive Pro-forma financial projections. The success of each plan hinges on a number of factors, particularly how well the site’s location is integrated with its advantages. In this case, attributes of the location included the neighborhood’s proximity to the historic French Quarter, New Orleans’ streetcar system, a newly built joint VA-LSU medical center, and interaction with the newly-developed Lafitte Greenway bicycle and footpath. Challenges existed as well, notably the presence of the I-10 highway that bisects the site, with several onramps obstructing and creating nonsymmetrical parcels within the development. Whether proposing mixed-use developments or sticking to a residential-heavy strategy, the Baker-led teams felt they greatly benefitted from the input teammates from other Cornell graduate programs brought to the project. Ryan Chao (Baker ’16), recalled “I enjoyed working with architects and urban planners in a real-world scenario. It made me appreciate the role of design professionals and the material value that they add to a development.”
Jason Abel and Annamaria Lookman, two Class of 2016 Baker Program members, also found it extremely beneficial to have Architecture and Landscape Architecture graduate students on their team. Abel reflected, “it was challenging to plan a large-scale urban project from start to finish. To work with a team of different backgrounds and specialties resulted in ideas that otherwise may never have been put forth. In the end, it was really satisfying to take a unique site in a city like New Orleans and propose a development that not only is feasible financially, but will also benefit the community in both the short and long term.”