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Tower Shines for Real Estate Challenge Win

Congratulations to a team of Texas MBA students who won the UNC Real Estate Development Challenge on Feb. 15 in Chapel Hill. The Tower will be lit March 19 with a No. 1.

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Texas MBAs Win UNC Real Estate Development Challenge

A team of Texas MBA students won this year’s University of North Carolina Real Estate Development Challenge on Feb. 15, taking home bragging rights in addition to the $10,000 prize. The tower will be lit on March 19 to celebrate their victory.

The national competition, which took place Feb. 14-15 in Chapel Hill, N.C., brought together 16 teams from MBA programs across the country. Teams were given the real estate development case on the Tuesday before the competition and presented their plans to judges on Friday morning. Four teams advanced to the finals, where they presented again. Second place went to a team from Columbia University, and teams from Vanderbilt and UCLA tied for third place.


This year’s case was for the development of a 136-acre plot of land east of downtown Houston. The McCombs team, which included first-year MBA students Richard Long, Mason Gilmore and Ziad Haddad, and second-year MBA student Courtney Blackburn, developed their plan to include a largely residential area with some parks along the bayou, anchoring the area with a large H-E-B grocery store.

The students had a mixed-income outlook for the development, designing townhomes and apartments that would attract tenants from various income levels.

The team attributes part of their success to their varied backgrounds in real estate. Gilmore worked in Houston and was familiar with the specific site, so he was able to contribute to the conceptual plan. Long had a background in development, so he contributed to the finance aspects of the plan as well as the modeling and phasing for the project. Haddad had previously studied architecture, and, using his experience and software, the team created a visual of the entire development. Blackburn, a Houston native, acted as the student coordinator for the University of Texas National Real Estate Competition and contributed her knowledge of the area as well as her experience on the other side of the competition.

Gilmore says that because the team had so much prior experience they were able to work toward a goal easily and quickly.

“We worked really well together and we were all on board with our site plan vision,” Gilmore says. “We were able to come to an agreement early, which allowed us to make our presentation a little more detailed than our competition.”

The team worked on the presentation for several hours after receiving the case on Tuesday, and then worked from 8 a.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday before boarding their flight to Chapel Hill. According to Blackburn, the time limitation was the team’s biggest challenge.

“I’d say the biggest challenge was the time crunch,” Blackburn says. “At a certain point, you worry if you’ll have enough time, but I think it ended up working out great.”

Despite the stress of the competition, Gilmore says the competition has given the team real-world experience across all areas of real estate development.

“It was a fun experience, and it was very helpful,” Gilmore says. “We were able to look at all aspects of the development process, the site plan, the phasing, the market, and the numbers. Usually you’re just able to look at one aspect as a part of your job, but having to balance them all was a fun learning experience.”

Blackburn agrees, saying that she believes the competition experience will benefit her in her future career.

“This is what I’m going to be doing in real life, and it definitely got me excited about going out in the real world,” Blackburn says. “I loved it, and it was easily the most rewarding thing I’ve done with my MBA so far.”

This story originally appeared in McCombsTODAY.