FIU real estate students score in new University of Miami competition.

FIU real estate students score in new University of Miami competition.

A proposed redesign of South Miami City Hall dreamed up by four College of Business Masters in International Real Estate students won them $1,500 in an innovative University of Miami commercial real estate competition.

But as nice as the money and accolades are, said the Florida International University Tibor and Sheila Hollo School of Real Estate students, more lasting is the experience of working with colleagues to craft creative solutions.

From left to right: Mario Serna, Sabrina Lugo, Suzanne Hollander, Dr. Eli Beracha, Jessica Moreno and Martin Bravo.
From left to right: Mario Serna, Sabrina Lugo, Suzanne Hollander, Dr. Eli Beracha, Jessica Moreno and Martin Bravo.

“The competition enabled our team to utilize the skills learned from our coursework, but also deliver a forward-thinking, all-encompassing project,” said Jessica Moreno, who graduated in May with joint masters degrees in international real estate and hospitality management.

“It is the kind of project the real estate industry is starting to see from unconventional developers,” she added. “Impact investing as a whole isn’t just about how many dollars you can make. It is also about whether you make a positive social impact.”

Impact investing looks at more than return-on-investment or other traditional financial metrics. It can include such concerns as reduced environmental impact, sustainable landscaping, affordable housing and mass transit options outside the one person-one vehicle model. Interest in the field is growing as developers, designers and city planners look for new solutions to old problems.

The University of Miami’s School of Business Administration Inaugural Competition on Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate was judged April 21, 2017 at the J.W. Marriott on Brickell Avenue, where the finalists, including FIU, presented their projects. The teams had about a month to assemble the initial concept and, after review and critique, two weeks to finalize the written portion.

Previously, UM had invited top real estate programs around the country to send in competition proposals, said Eli Beracha, MSIRE faculty director. From that pool, the judges selected the four final competitors, including FIU.

“Dr. Hardin and myself recognized immediately the opportunity for our students and decided to form a team,” Beracha said, referring to Hollo School Director William G. Hardin. The other chosen schools were Cornell University, Rutgers University and the University of Miami.

Joining Moreno on the FIU team were Martin Bravo, Sabrina Lugo and Raul Serna.

SoMi Park, as the team named the project, aimed to revitalize the three-acre property into what is termed in commercial real estate a “transit oriented development,” which focuses on automobile alternatives. In fact, one reason for choosing the city hall location, said Moreno, was its proximity to the Underline, the walking and bicycle trail planned to run beneath the Miami-Dade County Metrorail. They opted for a public-private partnership in order to demonstrate to the benefits of reviving a neglected area.

Preservation of the historic coral building, along with a permaculture garden and public event space, were included in the mixed-use office, retail and residential development. The approach, Moreno said, “provides an eye-opening experience in how cities can be both developed and renewed from a non-financial perspective.”

Development in demand.

Like many MSIRE students, Bravo, who graduates in July, already works in the real estate development industry. The exercise, he said, provided ideas for his own practice because it asked students to look for innovative and tailored development models. “It’s always rewarding to see how different people come up with different types of creative solutions for the same problems,” he said. When clients look at investment opportunities to add to their portfolios in different markets, Bravo said, they want to know what will serve the different demographics in these different markets.

Judging the competition was Arnaud Karsenti, managing principal of Miami-based 13th Floor Investments; Kasia Pozniak, an investment analyst with New York City-based PGIM Real Estate; and Jaret Turkell, managing director with Holliday Fenoglio Fowler’s Miami office.

Attention to detail made their presentation stand out, Beracha said, adding that the report incorporated MSIRE concepts emphasized throughout the program, including financing, investment, development and risk analysis among others. “It was wonderful to see how they all fit together.”

While FIU came in fourth, that in no way diminished the experience.

“I’m happy for the students and very proud of the way they presented FIU and the Hollo School of Real estate,” Beracha said.

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