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Thread: "Development" a dirty term

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    St. Louis, MO
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    "Development" a dirty term

    I get the feeling from what's been said in these forums and from the pure lack of anything being said about it at all that Real Estate development is almost a dirty term in planning circles.

    Given this, I still hope I can get some useful advice from people about a career in development. I'd eventually like to work for development firms or at least arms of development firms that focus on inner city redevelopment. I'm in St. Louis and we've seen our handful of independent and large commercial developers contribute to the revitalization of the city's core.

    I don't want to be planner, the description of the work and the general jaded attitude amongst planners is evidence enough for me that I shouldn't be doing it. I'm also someone that likes to put my effort into something and see a tangible result. I don't want to be the code-monkey that enforces silly regulatory minutiae or gets co-opted by greedy developers who have no concern for community or environment.

    I'm going to attend school this fall, part-time in the only planning program in St. Louis that also makes specific emphasis on land transactions. It's at St. Louis University. Am I going the right route for what I want to do or should I go another route?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
    Registered
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    New Jersey
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    Hi there,

    I earned an urban planning degree, worked some planning jobs, then worked in development for 3 years.

    You're right - real estate development doesn't get the respect it deserves on this board or from planning professionals. The social contribution of development is huge. A development project provides employment to architects, engineers, bankers, lawyers, leasing and marketing people, contractors, and construction workers - plus the development team that coordinates everyone. And none of this is financed with taxpayers' money.

    The good news about real estate development is nobody majors in it during college. Having good grades, a relevant degree or internship, and an interest in the job is enough to get hired. It was enough for me, at least. But at that time everyone wanted dotcom jobs. Today real estate is the hot profession so I'm sure there's a little more competition for jobs.

    The real estate development company I worked at and real estate friends I have are happy and optimistic. The planning offices I worked at, on the other hand, employed whiny people who critcized and complained about Wal-mart, developers, and architects all the time. They were regulating a business they didn't understand.

    Seeing a development project you worked on open for business is an exhilirating feeling. The development process takes at least 2 years - the construction period that most people notice is a small component of the overall development schedule - so don't expect immediate satisfaction.

    I recommend you try real estate development. I advise minoring in finance - you need to know it to understand the development process. Plus, it will open up more career doors.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    May 2004
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    St. Louis, MO
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    I know my program has a concentration in Real Estate development and the Business School has some reciprocal classes offered...you mentioned you worked in development for 3 years...what are you doing now? What should I look out for in development? I know there is a lot of politics involved and how rare is it to find a company that will do urban redevelopment?


    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    Hi there,

    I earned an urban planning degree, worked some planning jobs, then worked in development for 3 years.

    You're right - real estate development doesn't get the respect it deserves on this board or from planning professionals. The social contribution of development is huge. A development project provides employment to architects, engineers, bankers, lawyers, leasing and marketing people, contractors, and construction workers - plus the development team that coordinates everyone. And none of this is financed with taxpayers' money.

    The good news about real estate development is nobody majors in it during college. Having good grades, a relevant degree or internship, and an interest in the job is enough to get hired. It was enough for me, at least. But at that time everyone wanted dotcom jobs. Today real estate is the hot profession so I'm sure there's a little more competition for jobs.

    The real estate development company I worked at and real estate friends I have are happy and optimistic. The planning offices I worked at, on the other hand, employed whiny people who critcized and complained about Wal-mart, developers, and architects all the time. They were regulating a business they didn't understand.

    Seeing a development project you worked on open for business is an exhilirating feeling. The development process takes at least 2 years - the construction period that most people notice is a small component of the overall development schedule - so don't expect immediate satisfaction.

    I recommend you try real estate development. I advise minoring in finance - you need to know it to understand the development process. Plus, it will open up more career doors.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    You're right - real estate development doesn't get the respect it deserves on this board or from planning professionals. The social contribution of development is huge. A development project provides employment to architects, engineers, bankers, lawyers, leasing and marketing people, contractors, and construction workers - plus the development team that coordinates everyone. And none of this is financed with taxpayers' money.
    I think the problem is that the modern system employed to build cities (zoning and regulation) has put planners and developers at odds with one another, when they should be really cooperating closely. We're all in the same business, creating value. Developers win if the city has a high value since they can sell for higher profits, and the city wins if developers create buildings that add value.

    During Haussman's reign over Paris, the city employed its own architects to hand over designs for buildings to private developers. This way the builders did not have to go through complicated processes of approval, the buildings were pre-approved. The results today speak for themselves, a city of unrivaled architectural harmony.

  5. #5
    Member
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    I think the problem is that the modern system employed to build cities (zoning and regulation) has put planners and developers at odds with one another, when they should be really cooperating closely.
    I agree. There are lots of developers these days doing progressive, innovative things, and in many cases they are ham-strung by outdated codes and scared citizens. They are not all bad guys by any means, and should be the allies of planners.

    A great role model you should check out is Chris Leinberger. He makes a ton of money - more than a conventional developer - by focusing on innovative projects and the long term value. He doesn't just throw up a big box or tract housing for short term profits.

    http://www.cleinberger.com/

    By the way, don't slam all planners, either. Some of us are optimistic about the vast number of people working toward better communities, and love our jobs.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
    Registered
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    St. Louis, MO
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    Thank you so much for that link.

    Quote Originally posted by smilie
    I agree. There are lots of developers these days doing progressive, innovative things, and in many cases they are ham-strung by outdated codes and scared citizens. They are not all bad guys by any means, and should be the allies of planners.

    A great role model you should check out is Chris Leinberger. He makes a ton of money - more than a conventional developer - by focusing on innovative projects and the long term value. He doesn't just throw up a big box or tract housing for short term profits.

    http://www.cleinberger.com/

    By the way, don't slam all planners, either. Some of us are optimistic about the vast number of people working toward better communities, and love our jobs.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    NYC area
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    There is a ton of development work done by the nonprofit sector as well. You don't necessarily have to sell-out and become a soulless mall or gated community developer to work in real estate. Community and Neighborhood Development Corporations are always doing work in affordable housing and community revitalization, and every major city has CDCs and NDCs doing great things for the people who live there.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    St. Louis, MO
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    Thanks, I'm volunteering at my local Community Corporation right now.

    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames
    There is a ton of development work done by the nonprofit sector as well. You don't necessarily have to sell-out and become a soulless mall or gated community developer to work in real estate. Community and Neighborhood Development Corporations are always doing work in affordable housing and community revitalization, and every major city has CDCs and NDCs doing great things for the people who live there.
    Also, are there any more developers like leinberger that I can look at?

    Quote Originally posted by smilie
    I agree. There are lots of developers these days doing progressive, innovative things, and in many cases they are ham-strung by outdated codes and scared citizens. They are not all bad guys by any means, and should be the allies of planners.

    A great role model you should check out is Chris Leinberger. He makes a ton of money - more than a conventional developer - by focusing on innovative projects and the long term value. He doesn't just throw up a big box or tract housing for short term profits.

    http://www.cleinberger.com/

    By the way, don't slam all planners, either. Some of us are optimistic about the vast number of people working toward better communities, and love our jobs.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 25 Aug 2005 at 4:46 PM. Reason: double reply. Please consolidate multiple replies in ONE post.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    New Jersey
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    Quote Originally posted by jdstl1977
    I know my program has a concentration in Real Estate development and the Business School has some reciprocal classes offered...you mentioned you worked in development for 3 years...what are you doing now? What should I look out for in development? I know there is a lot of politics involved and how rare is it to find a company that will do urban redevelopment?
    I work in real estate securities now, selecting real estate companies to invest in.

    Watch out for small local developers without much $. It is much better to start at a larger firm. Compared to big firms in other industries, like energy or pharmaceuticals for instance, real estate firms are small. There might be office politics like anywhere else but there won't be any bureaucracy. And like any biz the main point is earning profits - during the development process design changes will be made to ensure the project won't lose $. For instance, if a potential anchor tenant demands a design element the planners don't like - like a big sign - the developer will try to push it through.

    Plenty of urban redevelopment companies are out there. The best one is Forest City Enterprises (www.fceinc.com). They have exciting mixed use and redevelopment projects going on in lots of cities right now. Its a multibillion $ company, with $750 million in projects underway and $550 million cash in the bank. A simple internet search will turn up more firms. I found one called Cherokee Investment Partners (www.cherokeefund.com). There are lots of local firms too. I know who these firms are in New Jersey, but not anywhere else.

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