Following many weeks of creative collaboration and countless hours of work in the design studio, three Utah State University Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) students and their two teammates at the University of Utah were recently named winners of the 2021 Utah Real Estate Challenge and claimed the contest’s $20,000 grand prize.
LAEP students Jonathon Brown, Hannah Anderson and Taylor Olson, and U of U students Sam McConkie and Ryan Thomas, in the U’s master of real estate development program, created the winning proposal for their project, The Foundry.
Annually, Utah Real Estate Challenge organizers select a location with development potential for the intercollegiate competition. Students create proposals that are presented to expert judges followed by intense question and answer sessions. On the way to the final presentations, teams are eliminated from the competition and the top three then work to create far-more-detailed site plans and financial strategies. Throughout the competition, students work from foundational goals of understanding and meeting local needs and creating value for the community and investors. The grand prize is awarded to the team with the most promising and economically viable development plan.
Students on the winning team met during the competition’s initial site visit and decided to combine their collective skills even though they were at different schools. Success in the competition requires building and using real-world skills including creative problem solving, clear communication, collaboration, and commitment to learning new and challenging aspects of design and business.
“I loved how much I learned and grew throughout the process,” Anderson said. “I was exposed to elements of design and planning that I have never done before and this made my abilities as a designer stretch and become stronger. We had a pretty seamless experience working with the U students. We had regularly scheduled Zoom meetings three times each week where we discussed each other’s progress and worked cohesively.”
Anderson, Bowen and Olson agree that working in a cross-disciplinary team with real estate development students was an outstanding learning experience.
“I learned a lot about working with teammates from diverse career backgrounds, and I was able to greatly advance my 3D rendering and visualization skills,” Bowen said. “I learned a lot about urban design from our mentors, specifically in Salt Lake City. I loved it!”
Anderson added that working across disciplines pushed her to find the best ways to explain her process to people who are not familiar with design work. The result was gaining insights and skills that will guide her future work and growth from successfully navigating “the hardest academic undertaking I have ever faced.”
This year’s challenge site was two parcels of land totaling just 1.2 acres in an area known as The Granary District, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City. The area at the southeast corner of 900 South and 500 West, like the rest of the district has always had commercial and industrial use but has recently become an attractive area for maker-space-type activities, new restaurants, and other community gathering spots. Property costs have been low relative to other areas of Salt Lake City, but prices are rapidly rising. Due to the site’s small size, teams were allowed to include acquiring adjacent land to accommodate their plans, which figured into the economics of the projects.
The winning Foundry Group ultimately designed structures on 4.28 acres between 400 and 500 West 900 South to create a destination development with commercial, retail, and residential spaces—including much-needed affordable housing—and co-working spaces. At the development’s center is “Silo Street” featuring shops, restaurants, pocket parks and street murals by local artists.
While creative thinking and new ideas are central to success in the competition, mentors with professional experience were valuable assets to the students who were competing in addition to completing regular coursework for their degrees.
“We had so much help from mentors scattered across several states who we called on and who gave us insights into how this process works in the real world,” Olson said. “The timetable this project put us on made us push ourselves while also being patient with the members of our team as they found the balance that we could work with when it came to renderings, sketch sessions, presentation ideas, and other parts of the project. This competition was like being given a bunch of cloth and string, then being told to build a parachute as you were pushed off an extremely high cliff. In the end, it was an amazing experience and we couldn’t have done it with our professors Todd Johnson and Caroline Lavoie along with all of our other mentors.”
The Utah Real Estate Challenge is sponsored by numerous Utah business and financial entities and organized by the Ivory-Boyer Real Estate Center in the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. This year’s virtual awards ceremony, including the top teams’ video presentations, and more about the competition can be viewed on the Ivory-Boyer Real Estate Center's website.
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