On October 17th, Old Dominion University and ULI Virginia finished its Second successful offering of the UrbanPlan in Hampton Roads. UrbanPlan has been incorporated into Old Dominion’s Strome College of Business Real Estate Program by Dr Andrew Hansz, who has previously run similar programs in Central California and North Texas. Dr. Hanz plans on expanding this program in future semesters.
UrbanPlan allows students to simulate the planning and financing of a complex mixed-use development by assuming various roles within competing development teams. These teams respond to a Request For Proposal to redevelop a blighted, fictitious neighborhood. Students are given an RFP book which includes the proposal, Design Guidelines, a site plan, letters from community groups and organizations wishing to be included in the development, rules for renovating existing buildings or for building new structures, a market analysis study, and guidelines for all of the development team roles, including:
- City Liaison – responsible for making sure that the development responds to all of the objectives and concerns stated in the RFP and exhibiting an understanding of what the City is trying to accomplish.
- Financial Analyst – responsible for providing a proposal that meets the profitability goals necessary to attract investor capital (minimum 13.5% rate of return) and which generates sufficient tax revenue for the City.
- Marketing Director – responsible for identifying the demand in the marketplace for housing, office and retail space and to lease or sell all of the residential, office and retail space in the project without overbuilding.
- Neighborhood Liaison – assists the development team in creating a proposal that will garner support from local community groups who often have conflicting goals and desires.
- Site Planner – responsible for bringing the development team’s Vision Statement to life by building a plan that creates a distinctive and functional place to live, work and play;
As a team, the students are tasked with developing a Vision Statement for their proposal and convincing the mock City Council members that the plan the team has developed meets its objectives and is superior to the other development proposals offered by competing teams.
The site plan provided to all of the development teams shows vacant properties, existing buildings in various states of disrepair – which the teams may or may not choose to renovate – adjacent properties such as a Church, a State Employment Office, multi-family and single family residential buildings, and multi-story office buildings. High traffic arteries and mass transit stops are also located on this plan. Finally, the students are provided with an Excel spreadsheet which provides financial and market results based upon the decisions that the students make in developing the site.
The students throughout the course of the semester test out various alternatives by arranging Lego shapes that represent various building types, open space, and parking requirements, onto the site plan. The Financial Analyst enters this data into the spreadsheet which in turn generates rates of return, tax revenue estimates, and market saturation rates that can be evaluated by the team. The percentage of affordable housing that is provided in the development can also be adjusted by the team. Various community, retail and office uses can be apportioned amongst any of the historic buildings that the team chooses to renovate. In addition, the teams have the option to include a homeless shelter subsidized by the community church, or can choose to pay a penalty to the City for relocating the shelter to a different neighborhood; the teams can also choose whether or not to include a big box Q-Mart store (variously favored and objected to by some of the community groups), or a grocery store.
The rules of the game are purposely set up to force trade-offs between opposing interests. There is no “right answer” for the students; and it is possible for them to justify any decision that they make, as long as the overall plan meets the profit and revenue objectives of the RFP, and aligns with the Vision Statement developed by the team. At various stages during the process, ULI members act as facilitators, advising the teams through the use of the Socratic Method in which the students are challenged with questions rather than given answers.
Equally important to developing a successful vision and financial model is that the teams fully comprehend the effects of the various decisions that they have made, and understand how to adjust the model to respond to requests to make the plan more desirable to certain interests, be they the investors (profitability), City Council members (tax revenue and constituent needs), community groups, and market absorption rates.
At the end of the semester the student development teams present their proposals to a mock City Council composed of ULI member volunteers and held at the City of Chesapeake City Council Chambers. At this semester’s City Council Meeting, Mayor Teresa Peters presided, and Council Members were represented by Larry Colorito, John Crouse, and Tom O’Grady.