Devils in the White City

Posted on November 6, 2013

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Midterms-in-hand, ASU Real Estate Development Master’s Candidates set out Sunday to join their alumni and prospective employers at the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting in Chicago, Il.

The sun set early as the Devils ascended into the eastern sky, their trek a welcome change from the design-studio-style class of almost thirty.

The faction of future financiers, who attend class together Monday through Friday in the nine-month accelerated program, will tour some of Chicago’s most revered real estate.

This year’s candidates range in age from mid-twenties to early sixties.

They are artists, brokers, accountants, realtors, landlords and engineers.

They are Arizona natives and foreign exchange students.

Their goals for this week are as diverse as their resume´s.

Some will face more challenges than others.

“I’m a little nervous because it’s really hard for me to follow you guys sometimes,” said James Hwang, “I have a story but I don’t know how to interact.”

Hwang moved with his wife and son to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea a year ago.

He worked for a real estate company in New York before he was accepted at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

“It’s hard for me to talk to people,” he said in perfect English. “It’s hard for me to raise my hand and discuss in class, and about this conference I have no idea.”

Hwang wants to learn from U.S. developers so he can eventually return and modernize undeveloped areas of North Korea and Russia.

“I want to meet some key people, I’ve got some key targets,” said Tom Haney. “I’m interested in adaptive re-use, adaptive places.”

Innovation is certainly not unique in a city where dill pickles are served atop hot dogs and even McDonald’s features a revolving glass door.

ULI hosts two annual summits in roving iconic American cities to showcase innovative and economic solutions to urban challenges.

“I want to see some stunning modern architecture,” said Melissa McCann, a landscape Architect. “There’s some new things here.”

McCann has been building for over thirty years.

Her craft has taken her all over the globe.

She splits her time between Phoenix and San Francisco, where she lives with her husband who is also an architect.

As part of their tuition, the MRED candidates will experience an insider’s tour of notable landmarks, past and present, including a private tour of Wrigley Field and the Prairie Crossing conservation community (urban farm) residential development.

They will learn about Chicago’s retail staple, Merchandise Mart, from the perspective of its current owners.

Their itinerary includes several traditional and modern skyscrapers too.

But It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns at the airport Sunday.

The group were handed their Market Analysis mid-terms as they arrived at the airport.

By mid-flight, they were socializing, watching movies, or catching up on rest.

“I can’t think right now, I’m dysfunctional without food,” said Max Gomez, a twenty-four-year-old real estate broker from Tucson.

U.S. Airlines charges for peanuts and pretzels, so only some ate anything on the plane.

“I helped a very nice elderly gentleman open his crackers,” said Ryan Garret with a sardonic grin. “I’m looking forward to a 64-oz steak.”

Garret, 35, was a budget planner with NASA before moving to Arizona for the program.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know my classmates,” he said earnestly.

Gomez and Garret were not the only ones whose stomachs grumbled during the flight.

“It used to be you’d get a full meal and a glass of wine,” said Steve Grimes, a former Arizona appraiser in his sixties.

Grimes wasn’t impressed with the flight itself, but enjoyed getting to know his neighbor, a Chicago developer who was not affiliated with W.P. Carey.

“We swapped stories and business cards,” he said.

Thousands of industry players are expected to attend this fall’s conference.

The ASU Candidates will learn from, and rub elbows with market moguls throughout the week.

“They’re in one of the best examples of architectural cities in America,” said Andy Conlin, a developer and professor at ASU. “They’re going to be introduced to people who were successful bringing forth developments, and building a sense of comeraderie they will carry with them the rest of the year.”

Conlin co-teaches market strategy with fellow developer, and program director Mark Stapp.

Conlin organized a majority of the trip.

“The downtown area of Chicago has undergone incredible renovation,” he said while viewing the Chicago night skyline. “The number of people who live in downtown has increased dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Conlin said there was a real possibility one of the candidates would meet their future employer during one of the dozens of seminars elaborating on post-crisis market analysis, strategy, and design.

“The camaraderie will happen by default, he elaborated. “There will be things that will occur you couldn’t anticipate.”

The crowd of cohorts were eager to get to their rooms at the chic James Hotel in the heart of downtown Chicago.

“It’s good to see people in boots,” joked Robbie Thompson, a broker and native of Canada. “It reminds me of home.”

Rain or shine, wind or warmth, the cohorts will rise early tomorrow for their first real test, the opportunity to network with today’s and tomorrow’s industry leaders.

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