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Studying the rebirth of Bethlehem Steel

The most famous of New York’s five boroughs, Manhattan is a historical work in progress that always seems to be in a steady state of change. In fact, neighborhoods there can fall in and out of fashion just as quickly as seasonal clothing lines.

On this urban island, amidst neighborhoods with quirky and abbreviated names like TriBeCa, SoHo and DUMBO, real estate is at a premium. Millions of square feet change hands everyday as investors wait patiently to convert bricks and mortar into venues that help revitalize entire neighborhoods.

It’s a risky business. “The secret of real estate is living long enough,” explains Barry Gosin, a lead real estate investor with offices in New York who was on hand this September to help launch Lehigh’s new integrated real estate program, called ire@l. “You could be smart, but it’s just as good to be lucky.”

It’s advice that Gosin himself follows. As the CEO of Newmark Knight Frank, Gosin and his team have leased more than 30 million square feet of New York City commercial space over the past 15 years. Those real estate transactions have been valued at over several billion dollars.

Almost none of those transactions, however, were overnight success stories. After all, time is a virtue in real estate. That’s why TriBeCa, SoHo and DUMBO are all more vibrant, diverse and economically vital than they were just a few years ago.

“Real estate is not for individuals with short attention spans,” adds Stephen Thode, director of Lehigh’s Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies. “Developers with a vision, who successfully assemble a team of highly-talented people and who stay focused on the objective, have a great opportunity to succeed.”

That message is the foundation on which the ire@l program is built. The innovative four-year program invites majors spanning Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges to work collaboratively on real estate development projects. It’s an unconventional model for undergraduate real estate education—one that embraces and integrated disciplines as diverse as architecture, civil engineering, environmental science and finance.

As such, it’s a program that is truly unique to Lehigh.

Tara Stacom ’80, executive vice president with Cushman & Wakefield, Inc. and chair of the ire@l executive committee, is also excited about what the program represents. “At the heart of ire@l is the study of highly accomplished entrepreneurs whose vision, determination, high ethical standards and civic commitment create value and improve the quality of life for the citizens of the communities in which they work,” she said.

Giving students real-world experience

The program is modeled after real estate development case studies, in which students have unprecedented access to learn from industry and community leaders. And though they’ll spend plenty of time in the classroom, ire@l students have the opportunity to gain practical experience working on and studying true multi-million dollar real estate projects.

Local venues already serve as field laboratories for the students. This fall, ire@l will learn about a Bethlehem property that has been transformed from an old plant to a mixed retail space that includes a Lowe’s home improvement store. Then, in the spring, students are expected to study the proposed mixed retail and residential redevelopment plans for the former headquarters of the Bethlehem Steel Corp.

Gosin and Stacom made the trek from New York to Bethlehem on Thursday, Sept. 14 to join Thode and the Lehigh community as it officially launched ire@l and the center’s new speaker series. As its featured guest, Gosin served up his company’s successful track record before introducing his next ambitious project: the redevelopment of 126 acres of former Bethlehem Steel property.

With the $800 million redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel property occurring less than one mile away—a project in which Gosin’s company has staked a financial and creative claim—students in Lehigh’s ire@l program are in unique position to see firsthand how the tables might turn for the largest urban industrial revitalization project underway in the United States.

That tract of land, sandwiched between Lehigh River and 3rd street on Bethlehem’s South Side, houses such Bethlehem Steel remnants as 17-story blast furnaces and an old ore crane. According to Newmark Knight Frank and BethWorks Now—the company actually managing the redevelopment—those are just the type of historical elements that helps projects like this succeed.

“When you walk on that site, there’s an amazing cathartic moment,” Gosin said. “It looks like America’s ruins … the site reeks of history.”

Which is a good thing, Gosin assured the audience. Unless you have a chance to walk the grounds, you can’t really appreciate what really happened there for the better part of the last century.

“We’re looking to build something that is respectful of the Steel and its architecture,” he said. “The uniqueness of the Bethlehem Steel Factory is what makes it the destination it could be.”

“We were intrigued by the concept of what you can do with a site like this, with all of the bricks and mortar,” added Gosin. “We’re reclaiming a center without destructing the texture or the form. We’re reintroducing it back into the grid of the city.”

That theme was found throughout Gosin’s presentation. According to the investor, small towns need vitality and energy, and Bethlehem is doing a good job at generating both. Gosin also noted that many members of the community are looking to translate the emotional appeal of the Bethlehem Steel land into attractive, multi-use property.

“What you want to do is create retail, housing, theatre, culture…you want to bring people into a new urban environment,” Gosin said. “Increasing the critical mass of energy in the city will make it better.”

Gosin joins Michael “Mickey” Kostow ’78, AIA, as the speaker series’ initial guests. Kostow is the principal of Kostow Greenwood Architects in New York City and is the lead architect for BethWorks Now.

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Monday, September 25, 2006

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