Release Date: April 27, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y. – At first glance, the group of hard-hatted visitors to the historic Phoenix Brewery loft conversion project in downtown Buffalo looked like any other tour. Huddled together, they listened intently to their guide and craned their necks upward. But this wasn’t your typical building tour.
It opened with a lesson on historic tax credit financials – offered by the developer himself, Buffalo’s up-and-coming Nick Sinatra. From there, tour-goers followed the project architect through the roughed-out units to learn about floorplan design and rentable square feet.
Later, the construction manager stepped in to explain that seemingly small decisions, such as laying the floor last (to simplify installation), can save a project countless hours of labor.
A closer look under those hard hats would reveal not tourists, but eager students — specifically, members of the first class of UB’s new graduate-level specialization in real estate development.
Launched last fall to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly complex profession, the new course of study in the School of Architecture and Planning features a highly practice-based curriculum brought to life by Buffalo’s building boom and first-hand instruction from experienced developers and real estate professionals.
It’s the only such offering available at a public university-based architecture and planning program in the Northeastern U.S.
The three-semester track — a specialization within the Master of Science in Architecture degree — has already drawn nearly two-dozen students with backgrounds as diverse as software sales, community development, law and architecture.
“The market is hot in Buffalo and in most metro areas across the country,” says Ernest Sternberg, a professor of urban and regional planning at UB and a key architect of the new path of study.
“Demand also stems from the market’s need for advanced training. Real estate development professionals must have hands on skills across a range of disciplines as well as a broad understanding of the industry’s relationship to the economy, new technologies, the environment and even sociocultural dynamics,” he adds.
The tour of the Phoenix Brewery project on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was part of a course in real estate development entrepreneurship taught by Sinatra, founding president of Sinatra & Company Real Estate and a member of the specialization’s founding advisory board.
He says the timing couldn’t be better. “The renaissance in Buffalo is once-in-a-generation, and real estate development and construction is leading the way. We need to foster interest on all levels, including proper education of future industry leaders,” Sinatra said.
Student John Pastore, a former mortgage loan officer for a bank and an aspiring real estate investor, says the track’s focus on practice-based learning was a key advantage over other programs he considered across the country.
“It’s very much about rolling up your sleeves and learning first-hand the stages of development, from how to creatively finance a project to getting the right team involved. We’ll walk out of here with the ability to develop a project.”
Pastore and his classmates will put their skills to the test for their final project for Sinatra – a development pitch for a 12,000-square-foot parking lot owned by Sinatra & Co. on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Taking into consideration economic and demographic projections, their development concepts must be supported by a feasibility study, zoning code review and financing model.
Given the complexity of even the smallest development projects, UB’s course of study is highly interdisciplinary.
The context of the built environment is emphasized through courses in urban planning, architectural design, energy innovation, regional economic development, and housing and community development. Of equal focus are the essentials of finance, construction management, market analysis and real estate law.
This mix has worked for Dawn Aprile, a Rochester-based developer who is looking to take her company to the next level.
“Although I came to the specialization with several years of experience, the courses immediately filled in gaps in my knowledge, increased my financial analysis capability and broadened my approach to the development process,” Aprile says.
Students are in constant contact with the region’s real estate development community. Institutions represented by its faculty include Uniland Development, R&P Oak Hill Development, Savarino Companies, Ciminelli Real Estate, the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and CBRE, an international commercial real estate services firm.
Weekly field visits have included ongoing developments across the region as well as zoning appeals court and preservation and planning board meetings.
Students are also closely involved with the regional chapter of the Urban Land Institute, an international association for the real estate and land use disciplines.
Pastore says such network-building directly translates to career development. “We’re developing opportunities and meeting influential people in the industry.”