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Real Estate Students Take Second Place in National Real Estate Challenge

A group of University of Arkansas at Little Rock students came in second place during a challenging national real estate competition where they battled 16 teams from universities across the country.
A group of UA Little Rock students came in second place during a challenging national real estate competition where they battled 16 teams from universities across the country.

A group of University of Arkansas at Little Rock students came in second place during a challenging national real estate competition where they battled 16 teams from universities across the country.

UA Little Rock came in second during the Undergraduate Division of the Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation’s Annual Real Estate Challenge, which matches teams from selected universities in a competition that normally focuses on a high-profile development/redevelopment project in the Chicago Metropolitan area.

The award-winning students were led by Elizabeth Small, director of business networks and instructor of real estate development. The team included Osman Bagandov, a recent finance graduate, Adison Cummings, a junior architectural and civil engineering major, Ashlin Graveline, a recent finance-real estate graduate, and Lamar Townsend, who just graduated with bachelor’s degrees in political science and finance-real estate.

“The students were dynamic, exciting, and well prepared,” Small said. “They had a lot of confidence going into the competition, which was refreshing and reassuring. I am so proud of this team for all their hard work, research, and innovation.”

This is the first year that the competition focused on a non-Chicago project, instead choosing a development project from St. Louis. This twist provided an interesting dynamic for the students, who had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis to view the site before the competition. In previous years, the team had to rely on photos and virtual tours and weren’t able to visit the site in person before traveling to Chicago for the competition.

The team made their presentation to the Eisenberg Foundation on April 14, with the four students sporting matching business outfits provided by Paul Rainwater, owner of Q Clothier in the Promenade at Chenal. He donated his time and skills to create the custom outfits so the team would be dressed for success as they defended their title. UA Little Rock took first place in the competition in 2023 and won a $5,000 scholarship for their efforts.

“In the judges’ comments, one judge even stated that we were the best dressed team at the competition,” Small said.

UA Little Rock faced some tough teams in the high-profile competition, including Auburn University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers, University of Notre Dame, Marquette University, Purdue, and Tulane.

There were so many teams competing this year that Eisenberg split the Undergraduate Division into two different tracks, and the winners of the two tracks competed head on to determine the winner. UA Little Rock won their track, but eventually lost to Tulane University in the final round, who took home the title and a $7,500 scholarship.

“I love this competition,” said Cummings, who is the only non-business student on the team. “I love the real-world concept behind the competition and getting to go through the process of development, seeing the site, and then creating what we envision for it.”

Each team was assigned the same case site and provided the essential information assumptions about a 21-acre property in St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

“Our goal was to use the information given to come up with a full redevelopment plan, a revitalization plan for a 21-acre site in St. Louis that is about a mile away from the Arch and a mile away from downtown St. Louis,” said Townsend, who served as the team leader. “This site was supposed to be the location for the new stadium for the Rams before they moved to Los Angeles. We created a mixed-use development to enhance the area and also create a new place where people can live and work.”

The UA Little Rock team came up with a plan that included renovating four of the five historical buildings. The redevelopment plan included three apartment buildings with first-floor retail shops, an underground parking lot, storage facilities, a Japanese-themed brewery, an event hall, a river walk along the Mississippi River, and an amphitheater with plenty of green space for residents.

Graveline even created an app for the planned development that would have served as an online community for the residents as well as a way to connect with all the businesses.

“Our plan was to create an app that would connect people with all of the businesses so that they wouldn’t have to go to multiple websites or apps to make a reservation, learn about the business, or find out when an event was happening,” Graveline said. “The app also gave a description of the history of each building because it’s a historically rich area. We wanted to create a community where people didn’t have to leave the area to find what they needed.”

One of the biggest challenges of the competition was the financial aspect. The students’ development plan had to contain a comprehensive analysis and conclusion of how to maximize the potential of the property from both a financial and feasibility standpoint.

“Our total project cost was about $179 million,” Bagandov said. “We had to make sure we were able to manage the property for 10 years, after which it could be sold. We ended up financing the project with loans from three different banks, because dividing the financing up makes the project more palatable to lenders.”

The project also had to be self-sustainable and generate a certain amount of profit. This led to a lot of changes throughout the plans, including nixing a hotel and marina, switching from townhouses to apartment buildings, and adding first-floor retail space. Overall, the team members were very satisfied with the final product.

“The idea was to bring everybody back to the river,” Cummings said. “We wanted people to get close to the river as well as preserve the historical and architectural details of the property.”