Cornell Real Estate Club trek takes students to Australia

By: Katelyn Godoy
A group stands with construction hats and gear touring a site
Students hear from Fife Capital’s Michael Este, manager of the construction project they were visiting.

By Mia Haggerty ’21

Members of the Cornell Real Estate Club ventured down under to Sydney, Australia for their 2019 Spring Break Real Estate Trek. Throughout the three-day excursion, these Hotelies had great opportunities to meet with professionals from 151 Property, the Blackstone Group, Scentre Group, WeWork, and JLL.

Day 1

Our first stop was one of Sydney’s largest malls, Top Ryde City Shopping Centre. Representatives from the owner, 151 Property, walked us through this asset’s transformation from a suffering retail space into a key player in the retail industry in Sydney. We learned the importance of strong anchor tenants to increase foot traffic in areas of a mall, and the crucial element of creating experiences for their customers. Thus, in revamping the shopping center, 151 Property incorporated multiple restaurant outlets as well as a play space for children. Interestingly, this mall has two grocery stores in it! We learned that housing grocery stores in malls is a usual practice in Australia.

A group seated around a table
Kristian Tsekenes (left), an intern at 151 Property, joins trekkers Tim Bergin ’21, Mia Haggerty ’21, assistant professor of real estate Eva Steiner, and Michael Raye Reiss ’21 for lunch at the Top Ryde Shopping Centre.

After a final tour through the shopping center and a delicious dim sum lunch at one of its restaurants, we headed to an industrial site for a tour—hardhats on! Unsurprisingly, this asset presented vastly different challenges from the retail space. We learned how 151 Property handled different zoning regulations for an industrial site and the importance of confirming contracts with large tenants before a site is completed.

At our last stop of the day, Blackstone walked us through a case study involving prime office real estate in Sydney. This case highlighted the unpredictable nature of the real estate industry. For example, they showed us that one of the best real estate locations in the city is currently a hole in the ground due to unforeseen challenges. They then toured us through the city to see in person the buildings we had previously seen on paper.

Hotelies will be Hotelies, so naturally the day ended with meeting local SHA alumni over hors d’oeuvres at the Opera Bar outside the Sydney Opera House.

A group seated outdoors overlooking that water and bridge
Trek participants with local alumni at the Opera Bar. Clockwise from left are Devora Lieberman ’86 (A&S), Cooper Devin ’20, Justin Goldstein ’21, Tim Bergin ’21, Alex Vlahandreas ’21, Mia Haggerty ’21, John van der Wallen ’85, Cristina Carter from SHA’s Center for Real Estate and Finance, Jamie Alcock, associate professor of finance at the University of Sydney (standing), and SHA assistant professor Eva Steiner.

Day 2

Many of us were familiar with Australia’s Westfield-branded malls, but we were less familiar with the relatively new spin-off company that oversees them, Scentre Group. We toured their impressive location on Pitt Street, learning about their vision of how malls will be built going forward. Scentre Group emphasized the importance of creating a sense of community within their malls, expressing the belief that this element will continue to keep retail thriving. As an example, they are taking steps to eliminate the stress associated with coming to a mall, with innovations like green arrows that direct customers to open parking spaces so they do not spend time searching the lot in frustration for an open space. They also track comments made about their malls online to learn how they can improve and respond to any complaints/concerns. Additionally, Scentre Group shared plans for a shopping center–high-end apartment complex that has faced unique development challenges because they are repurposing protected historic buildings. We learned that some projects will take years to complete due to the various regulations that must be followed as they work to create the most value for stakeholders.

The group walks down a vibrant staircase led by a tour guide
Students tour space rented by WeWork in a building owned by 151 Property.

Next, we had the great fortune of touring two WeWork locations in Sydney. We were all pleased to hear our host say that, at the end of the day, WeWork is a hospitality company. For example, they take great lengths to hire front-line employees who exude warmth and create an environment that others want to work in. Additionally, every location has a private room with a changing table and a special lounge chair for nursing mothers. They will also develop office spaces to meet the specific, and sometimes bizarre, needs of their clients. We found it interesting that, rather than owning the buildings they operate in, WeWork  leases them and then essentially subleases space to their members/tenants. We also learned that they succeed due to economies of scale: they do not enter a market with plans for a single WeWork location; instead, if one WeWork opens in a market, you can bet that others will pop up near it.

Day 3

On our final day, we met with JLL representatives, who gave us a thorough run-through of the real estate market in Australia and how it differs from real estate in the United States. We were given a review of various cases the firm handled and the creative approaches they took to what seemed like impossible deals. For example, one transaction required bundling two different hotels into the same deal to satisfy stakeholders. We also learned how they forecast the market and use these projections to plan for future opportunities.

Students walk down stairs outside a building
Cooper Devin ’20, Tim Bergin ’21, Mia Haggerty ’21, Alex Vlahandreas ’21, and Michael Raye Reiss ’21 leave the ANZ Tower after a tour.

The trip was not all business! After the trek concluded, we made sure to explore some of Australia’s best offerings. Students ventured to Cairns to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, ventured to Palm Beach to soak up some sun, took the ferry to Manly Beach, wandered through the Botanical Gardens, trekked the Coogee-to-Bondi coastal walk, enjoyed the Sydney Zoo, tasted the incredible food in the city, and sampled as many ice cream outlets as possible.

Especially as Hotelies, we believe that these international experiences greatly enrich the education we are receiving on campus. We are unbelievably grateful to all of the industry professionals and Cornell alumni who dedicated their valuable time to meeting with us and sharing the ins and outs of their unique businesses, the obstacles that they have tackled, lessons learned along the way, and what it is like to be working professionals in Sydney.

View of the water and buildings

About Mia Haggerty ’21

Mia Haggerty

Mia Haggerty ’21 is studying hotel administration with prospective minors in real estate and health and nutrition. At Cornell, she is an active member of Pi Sigma Epsilon, a professional fraternity with an emphasis in sales and marketing. She is also an SHA ambassador. With hopes of entering the real estate industry, Mia joined the Cornell Real Estate Club, where she is now an executive board member. To accommodate her interests in both wellness and finance, she serves as vice president of finance for Cornell Undergraduate Healthy Futures, an organization that gives students the opportunity to learn and explore the wellness industry. Mia is also an active member of her social sorority, Delta Gamma. Outside of academic and professional settings, she enjoys trying new restaurants with her family and friends, attempting to cook, practicing yoga, walking her Portuguese water dogs, and exploring different cultures and cuisine while traveling.