A team of graduate students from the Real Estate Concentration at the Naveen Jindal School of Management won a recent case competition that offered ideas for a revitalization project adjacent to the DART rail Farmers Branch Station.
The Texas Shoot-Out Real Estate Case Challenge, which was sponsored by the North Texas chapter of the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks, a commercial real estate development association, tasked the teams with creating an idea for redeveloping a five-acre plot of land northeast of the DART Farmers Branch Station.
The UT Dallas team members were double MBA-finance students Joseph Barnett and Colby Porter, MBA students Betsy Cheung and Haylee Tubbs, and master’s in finance student Patrick Kerns. The students took first place and split a $6,000 prize for their winning efforts. They prevailed over teams from SMU, TCU, UT Arlington and UT Austin at the April 5 finals..
“This year’s case involved a large parcel in what is hoped to become downtown Farmers Branch, but currently is best described as ‘in transition,’ ” said George DeCourcy, associate director of the Real Estate Concentration. “However, the site is adjacent to a DART rail station, and the city has great long-term plans for the area.”
Barnett appreciated the opportunity to work on a cohesive team with people from diverse backgrounds — some were from the area and some were not — who all brought their own perspectives and insights that might have been missed had it been a more homogeneous team.
“When you’re trying to solve a problem like this, it’s easy to look through it from one lens or perspective,” Barnett said. “One of the things I learned in this competition was that you have to think about this holistically. It’s not just a matter of building out a plot of land. It’s about the culture of the community, what’s currently available and what’s needed — there are lots of people in the community who are invested in its future.”
The City of Farmers Branch initiated the case used in the competition by issuing a request for proposal (RFP). Mayor Robert C. Dye laid out the city’s vision for the project in a letter to the competitors, explaining that the proposal — for “a true live, work, play environment that residents, and non-residents alike, can call home” — would “help change our City’s landscape for generations to come.”
At a recent city-council meeting, Mayor Dye introduced an initiative to have Farmers Branch join the worldwide “smart cities” movement in which cities develop infrastructure needed to utilize technology that plugs into the “internet of things.” The communications and information technologies used in a smart city are believed to help improve its operational efficiencies, resulting in improvements in government services and the welfare of citizens. The development next to the DART rail station is part of a Farmers Branch pilot program. The RFP asked that the development be expanded beyond the smart technology and introduce art and culture into the mix.
“The city is taking a proactive measure to engage the community and figure out where things are going in the future,” Cheung said. “They’re not predicting short-term; they’re thinking long-term: how this will affect everyone, how the future of transportation is going to change and how that fits in to helping improve the quality of life for everyone.”
Cheung also noted that cities like Farmers Branch that are focused on developing smart-city infrastructures are proactively involving students in the revitalization process as an effort to engage with millennials, whom she said are their target demographic. She sees projects such as this one as great opportunities for both sides to learn.
Julie Lynch, principal at LYNOUS Talent Management, wrote the case for exclusive use by student participating in the competition.
The team’s proposal, “The Next Chapter for Farmers Branch,” provided market, site and gap analyses and offered a highest-and-best-use proposal, real-estate parlance for a development that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible and results in the highest value. Students also included a financial analysis and a recommended site design.
“Our team developed a unique mix of retail and office with walkability and environmentally sensitive touches that played off all the surrounding elements and the site potential,” DeCourcy said. “They even projected the outcome of a negotiation with city on funding for burying some existing power lines. This was made more interesting as one of the judges was the mayor of Farmers Branch — especially when Q&A time arrived. Every team member contributed and demonstrated a professional presence.”
—Jimmie R. Markham