By Ralph Bivins
HOUSTON – The University of Houston Graduate Real Estate Program was recognized as a winner for its financial analysis and proposal in the 2012 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition.
Real estate students from 139 teams representing 64 universities in the United States and Canada, with a total of 695 students participated in the ULI Hines design competition.
The students were assigned to develop a workable scheme for the best use of the downtown Post Office in Houston, a 16.3 acre-site on Franklin Street near Buffalo Bayou. The site is owned by the United States Postal Service (USPS).
A joint team of students representing the University of Colorado and Harvard University won the $50,000 top prize with a mixed-use project design that includes residential units.
The Colorado/Harvard winning proposal, “Bayou Commons,” was strategically designed to be downtown Houston’s first residential district. The Bayou Commons design focused on attracting a mix of ethnic and socio-economic individuals through its enhanced Buffalo Bayou waterfront, variety of residential product, connection to adjacent districts and the University of Houston-Downtown campus, safe community environment, entrepreneurial office space, and new commuter rail station. The scheme’s distinctive features for the site include: an iconic pedestrian bridge spanning the bayou, unique architecture and amply-shaded sidewalks that create comfort and re-establishes downtown outdoor enjoyment in the hot and humid Houston climate and a new cultural center for exhibits and performances.
The competition focuses on the USPS property since it is considered by many stakeholders to be a key site to reconnect the Theater District, the Historic District, and the greater downtown to the Buffalo Bayou. The downtown post office was one of several hundred USPS properties put up for sale nation-wide in 2009 to offset the federal agency’s financial losses. Since that time, land planners and real estate experts have suggested numerous possibilities for the property, which have included converting the land into public open space, mixed-use development that includes residential housing, as well entertainment venues.
In addition to the urban design and land use jury, a financial jury team led by Jeff Munger, director of research of Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, LLP’s Houston office, graded the financial dimensions of the student entries. The financial jury was tasked with examining the pro formas and other supporting financial material submitted by the teams. The financial jury then evaluated the team proposals based on accuracy of assumptions, market conditions, and the overall value proposition.
Nine teams were selected for honorable mention. The jury commended the University of Houston Graduate Real Estate Program‘s entry for superior financials. John Walsh, formerly of Friendswood Development, is director of the UH Graduate Real Estate Program, which is part of the Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston.
In addition to grand prize winners, Colorado/Harvard, the ULI competition finalists included University of California – Berkeley; Columbia University; and the University of Michigan.
World-renowned real estate developer Gerald D. Hines, chairman and owner of the Hines real estate organization, established the ULI student competition and has funded it in perpetuity with a $3 million endowment. He attended the final round and the announcement of the winner at a ceremony at the Houston Ballet building.