January 24, 2019

Schack Graduate Students on the Challenges and Rewards of the 2019 CASE Competition

By NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate

In the winter of 2019, several groups of Schack graduate students chose to compete in the annual CASE Competition, held at the Harvard Business School. The project “lit a fire under us,” says Dawood Rouben, a member of one such team who is a licensed architect studying real estate development at Schack. Rouben was in a group with Schack graduate students Dennis (Gihoon) Lee, Keith Crossland, and Utsav Bhandari, each representing different areas of real estate.

Shack Students at the competition

Pictured (left to right): Dennis (Gihoon) Lee, Dawood Rouben, Utsav Bhandari, and Keith Crossland

With only 10 days to complete, this year’s competition called for a new design proposal for Boston City Hall and Plaza focusing on sustainability, affordable housing, transit-oriented design, and maximizing a financial return. It required multiple evaluation stages, and had to be done independent of any outside help, providing excellent exposure to a complex real-life development question for the participating graduate students.

The group moved to the finalist round, and went to Boston to present their proposal. “It was well-rounded, hitting all aspects of the CASE requirement,” says Crossland, who is studying in the sustainability track of the real estate development degree. Their plan stood out, Rouben says, for its depth in the market analysis, sustainability, and affordability components. They proposed a site with open frontage on the west, office space on the south, and residential and hotel space to the north. They included sky gardens to connect spaces, which “alluded to inclusion,” Rouben adds, as well as an open venue space in the vein of Bryant Park.

Primary considerations for the project included what to do with the government offices. The brutalist style City Hall is not especially loved in Boston, but the decision of what to do with the offices and employees proved to be a challenging question when considering the site.

“Everything we did in this CASE is relevant to what we are interested in working on in the future”

Dawood Rouben

Another important area of focus was the project financing—something that required close attention in light of the competition’s call for affordable housing. “The trick as a developer is, you want to give back to the city, but you have to figure out how much will work with whoever is funding you,” Rouben says. During the judging process the group realized that ensuring a financial return was crucial.

The team said that the process was a great experience in Schack teamwork. It also dovetailed with their long-term professional interests. “Everything we did in this CASE is relevant to what we are interested in working on in the future,” Rouben says. For instance Lee, who has a background in urban planning and is studying real estate finance, focused on the market analysis. He tied that work back to his research interests in the young professional demographic moving into places such as North Carolina.

The judging process also offered the students important insight into the thought process and priority of different groups involved in development, such as developers or government officials. “We definitely went outside the box, and I think they were looking for something more practical,” Crossland says.

Importantly, the project prompted the team to think and work collaboratively in a professional context. With the timeframe and project specifications, competing was challenging, but also highly rewarding. “Would I encourage others to do it? Absolutely,” Crossland says, “picking up on the creative juices was an experience you can’t put a value on.” 

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