UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois likes to share a joke at the onset of speaking engagements. So he was ready with a good one to warm up the crowd before last week’s announcement that Childress Klein Properties was donating $2.5 million to the school’s Center for Real Estate.
Standing at a podium at UNC Charlotte Center City, he told a room full of university officials, students and alumni, and local real estate executives that a genie had made Fred Klein, the company’s senior managing partner, an offer. He’d grant Klein three wishes. But there was a caveat. Anything Klein desired would be doubled for competitor Jones Lang LaSalle.
First wish: $1 million.
Second wish: a Ferrari.
Third wish: “I’ve always wanted to donate a kidney.”
With that, Dubois launched into details about the decade-old center and what that gift will mean.
The newly renamed Childress Klein Center for Real Estate, he said, “embodies the successful partnership between the university and the real estate industry—a relationship strengthened by a mutual interest in growing and supporting the North Carolina economy.” The donation, he said, would fund workshops for students and industry professionals, promote research and create a Distinguished Professors Endowment fund.
Steven Ott, founding director of the center and dean of the Belk College of Business, says the center’s three-pronged mission has not changed over the years.
“We wanted to create a talent pipeline for the industry though academics,” he said, along with providing a place to research trends in real estate and urban economics and launch workshops for students and the real estate community.
A growing program
To that end, Belk College of Business started off in 2005 with an MBA and graduate-level certificate programs concentrating in real estate finance and development. An improving economy led the center to launch a Master of Science in real estate in 2011. The latter program offers courses on site planning and construction, land-use policy and real estate law, site feasibility analysis, accounting, construction management, and building design. The curriculum includes resources from UNCC’s College of Arts and Architecture and the school’s departments of civil engineering and geography.
The business college says graduates qualify for positions that include underwriters, brokers, asset and property managers, acquisition specialists and financial analysts.
The M.S. program has been extremely successful, Ott said, nearly doubling in size over the past year to 35 students. Many already are working in the field, he said, and are looking to advance their careers. Others, he said, are looking for an entry point into the sector.
As for outreach efforts, the center has held professional-development workshops. Ott said recent events have included seminars on navigating a private-equity capital raise, negotiating successful deals, and boosting presentation and communication skills.
The center has focused its research activities on analyzing data to explain the reasons behind real estate trends. Recent endeavors, says center Co-Director Stephen Billings, have focused on creating a price index on Charlotte neighborhoods similar to Case-Shiller’s national indicator.
The ups and downs of home prices say a lot about a neighborhood, Billings said, as they reflect shifts in crime rates, public investment in green space and infrastructure, and school quality.
The center is also working on a study of purpose-built communities, a holistic approach to development that includes high-quality mixed-income housing, educational and health-related resources, and commercial investment in struggling areas.
One such project is in the works locally—the Renaissance redevelopment of the former Boulevard Homes in west Charlotte. The first phase of the project’s residential component, 110 apartments for fixed-income seniors, opened in 2013. Another 74 apartments followed in 2014, and an additional 150 will come online by mid-2016. The former 40-acre public-housing site will feature a K-8 school, a child-development center, a community center, a neighborhood park and other open areas. Planned amenities include a private-vehicle share program and community gardens for local food production.
Billings said the center will evaluate the project’s success, asking, “Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts?” Such work, he said, answers questions on effective investment and can impact public policy.
UNCC has earmarked some $600,000 of the gift for such endeavors. The same amount will go towards workshops, with the remaining $1.3 million applied to the endowment fund.
Ott, meanwhile, says he is looking forward to expanded course offerings and scholarships, and the creating of a “shark-tank” program in which students find real estate deals and pitch them to investors.
A history of involvement
He wasn’t shocked when he heard that Childress Klein had pledged $2.5 million.
“I knew Fred had a passion for the center and real estate education and I was hopeful that he would consider naming and donating to the center,” he said. “But you’re always pleasantly surprised when it actually happens.”
The commercial developer has long been involved with UNCC, starting in 1990 with the Childress Klein Scholarship for Merit.
That was followed in 1999 with an eponymous faculty-research fund and fellowship fund, followed by gifts to the school’s Chancellor’s Fund.
Around that time, Childress Klein lobbied with former UNCC Chancellor Jim Woodward to lure financial-services company TIAA-CREF.
“I worked with Jim on getting TIAA-CREF here, and it opened my eyes even further to the important role UNCC plays in the region’s economy,” Klein said. “Without the collaboration of the University and the wealth of talent it offers TIAA-CREF, I don’t think it would have located here.”
Childress Klein, which has developed more than 42 million square feet of office, industrial, retail and multifamily properties, oversaw construction of TIAA-CREF’s expansive operations in University Research Park.
“We believe that UNC Charlotte has been instrumental to the growth and development of the Charlotte region,” Klein said as a way of explaining the company’s gift.
The company says it hopes the donation will inspire others to get involved with the school.
“My goal is that our modest gift will help all the students and researchers continue in this great industry,” said Don Childress.