From the article at DJCOregon.com:
Students dream big in proposal for ‘Benson Blocks’
POSTED: Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:52 PM PT
BY: Angela Webber
The critiques may have been difficult to hear, but the six Portland State University students who presented their “Benson Blocks” project proposal to a panel of local developers on Wednesday say the experience was worth any slight verbal bruising they encountered.
The students, all enrolled in real estate certificate and master’s degree programs at PSU, had been assigned to come up with a development plan for the Benson Blocks, a 14-acre site in Portland. The idea was to make the planning experience as real as possible for the students, from giving them an actual parcel of land to work with to exposing them to responses they might encounter when proposing a project to a group of city or county officials.
The approach struck a chord for at least one student. Jennifer Hanna, who works in the financing industry, said simulating the planning of a development provided her with insight looking at a project from the ground up.
“It’s a whole new experience. I can take it to the lending world, and be able to think like a developer,” Hanna said.
The students’ development proposal for the swath of property between Sandy Boulevard and the Banfield Expressway included some ideas unusual for Portland: an urban Costco store with apartments above it; a YMCA; and an urban Portland Community College campus with potential for student apartments.
“We saw it as an underutilized site,” student Christopher Longfield said. “We feel like we’ve laid some groundwork for development.”
Longfield, Hanna and their four peers brought a variety of experiences to the development project. Longfield was in the residential mortgage business before the financial crash. Karen Reeves spent 15 years in New York City in the financial sector, mostly working for Goldman Sachs. Kyle Brown has a construction management background in both California and Oregon. He said his biggest lesson was “how much parking can influence a development’s financial pro forma.”
Both proposals called for underground parking and stand-alone parking structures.
“It’s the biggest influence, which is kind of a bummer,” Brown said. “That’s the way things have to be built.”
The team assembled the scenarios over the course of a 12-week program by working with the owner of the site, prominent developer Joe Weston, as well as professionals from the architecture and development industries and businesses like YMCA and Costco.
Brown said that the project presented an opportunity to meet folks in the industry, particularly because the “student” label opens doors that might otherwise be closed. He said that the folks he talked to recognized that students today will be developing the big projects of the future.
“The industry is all about networking.” Brown said.
The group’s “modest” scenario suggested retail, apartments and senior housing, as well as a Market of Choice grocery store, a Costco and a beer garden. That project was a multiphase development with $284.5 million in construction costs.
A “robust” scenario called for construction totaling $639.8 million. That ambitious plan included many of the same aspects, as well as condos, class A office space and a hotel.
“The first time I drove on Sandy (through the site), I was way more concerned with what lane I needed to be in,” Reeves said.
The team worked to create a sense of place, with phasing that started along Sandy Boulevard and progressed to larger buildings visible from busy roads nearby.
A panel at the Building Owners and Managers Association meeting said the proposals were impressive, but reminded the students of current realities.
“I’d love to see condos come back, but that may be a while yet,” said Debbie Thomas of Debbie Thomas Real Estate.
“My first reaction is to the apartments right along the freeway,” Unico Properties General Manager Brian Pearce said. “You have to think about that.”
The students recognized that a big development is probably unrealistic in the coming years, but they stood by their plans.
“I think it’d be very interesting to see (the site) when it’s developed,” Reeves said.