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Watching New York's "New Downtown" take shape

Students and alumni got a bird’s-eye view of the World Trade Center recently and a progress report from the man who is developing the new landmark.

Nearly 30 students and more than 100 alumni journeyed to the tenth floor of the downtown Manhattan offices of real estate magnate Larry Silverstein for a presentation titled “Looking Up: The New Downtown.”

The event, part of the Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series, was presented by the Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh program.

The guests saw the ongoing construction at the WTC, the 9/11 memorial park and its twin reflecting pools before hearing Silverstein’s perspectives on development, personal passion and New York City’s resilience following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The setting could not have been a more fitting place both to celebrate Lehigh’s enormous success with its signature real estate program and to set the stage for future successes,” said Paul R. Brown, dean of the College of Business and Economics.

Silverstein regaled the alumni and students with the story behind the development of the WTC, touching on nuances ranging from real estate taxes and security and environmental issues, to the cost of electricity.

The large scope and inherent emotional nature of the project, he said, created a host of challenges.

“The rebuilding effort didn’t follow a straight line,” he said. “We had many different perspectives. What drove us at the end of the day was a passion to create something better… It was critically important to do something positive for downtown. We needed to show the world that New York City would come back stronger than before.”

“Blocking out the noise”

Silverstein told students his favorite part of the process was coordinating the building designs. Because of tight timeframes, budgets and the need for the designs to complement each other, Silverstein invited the architects to work together in his building and carefully managed the process.

“We had a countdown clock on the wall—days, hours, minutes, seconds left,” he said. “And every night, every architect had to put their work up on the walls, so everyone could see everyone else’s work.”

Lucy Zhang ’13 said the presentation broadened her perspectives.

“It showed us a real-world person, not just a classroom example, and New York is just such an important market. Silverstein was inspiring. He gave us an idea of what it takes to succeed. It’s tough work.”

For Allison Zamfir ’13, the takeaway was about going after what you want.

“Silverstein had no hesitation. He assembled a team to make it work, and blocked out the noise,” she said. “I’m more conservative, so it’s great to see someone care so much about something and to have the passion to go for it.”

Zhang and Zamfir were part of a team of students, all of them real-estate minors, who won the Villanova Real Estate Challenge last spring. The Challenge invites undergraduates from the nation’s top real-estate programs to take part in a week-long real-estate development competition.

Passing along the passion to excel

The Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series was created in 2009 by Lehigh trustee Tara Stacom ’80 to connect students and alumni with notable figures in real estate. Stacom, the leasing agent for One World Trade Center, recently brokered a milestone one-million-square-foot deal with Condé Nast.

Stacom attended Silverstein’s real estate workshops at New York University early in her career and endowed the Lehigh series to provide a similar experience.

“The Silverstein Workshops brought the industry to life in a classroom. Having speakers interact with students gives them a far better understanding,” she said.

“The exchange that happens at the end of a presentation—you can’t get that experience out of a textbook. It’s a real dialogue. It gives students a sense of the passion we have, and when you have that passion, it makes excelling so much easier.”

David Ledy ’70 was one of a handful of alumni who explored the construction site as part of a guided tour.

“It was a great tour. It is such a special project, because of the importance to the country. It’s private and it’s public, and it’s done on a scale you don’t ordinarily see. What a source of pride for Lehigh that so many alumni are involved in so many ways.”

The Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh program, which was launched in 2001, offers students from any college a real estate curriculum that complements their major and minor fields of study. Students study engineering, law, architecture, finance, accounting and more. Coursework is supplemented with a variety of out-of-the-classroom experiences that enhance students’ exposure to the hands-on world of real estate.
 
Stephen Thode, director of the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies, said the program is thriving, thanks to alumni and friends.

“The quality of the students is terrific and we have record enrollments across the board,” he said. “The students are bright and hardworking kids with a passion for real estate.”

The Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series, he said, gives students real-world insights into the field.

“Students can easily see the end result, but don’t always get to see how you get there. These programs show that process, and the lessons that are learned along the way.”

Past speakers in the Stacom Family Series include Marc Holliday ’88, CEO of SL Green Realty Corp., and Robert Lapidus ’13P, president and CIO of L&L Holding Company, LLC.


Photos by Shannon Smith (top) and Douglas Benedict

 
Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2012
 
 
The leasing contract for the 104-story One World Trade Center, shown here, was secured by Lehigh trustee Tara Stacom ’80, who is vice chairman of the global commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
 
“New York is such an important real estate market. Larry Silverstein was inspiring. He gave us an idea of what it takes to succeed.”—Lucy Zhang ’13
 
Alexandra Lapidus ’13 enjoys an uncommonly good view of One World Trade Center.
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