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In Real Estate Lab, Kellogg students conduct extensive research projects and make recommendations to solve real-world problems.

Community servants

Developing Solutions

Students in Kellogg’s Real Estate Lab develop a plan to help drive economic development in Evanston

By Daniel P. Smith

12/17/2012 - As the fall academic quarter drew to a close, the four Kellogg students enrolled in professor Therese McGuire’s Real Estate Lab class remain in hustle mode.

After nearly three months of intensive Tax Increment Financing (TIF) research, the quartet was set to stand before Evanston’s economic development team on Dec. 11 and present their recommendations for the city’s use of TIF.

While the culminating presentation inside Evanston’s City Council Chambers would inform the city’s future development, the course had also provided these four students an intimate glimpse at one of the nation’s most popular — and controversial — tools to spur residential and commercial development.

Assessing TIF’s effectiveness
Functioning as a four-member consultancy, the students evaluated past TIF successes and struggles to propel Evanston’s economic development policy.

“This project is really all on the students’ shoulders and challenges them to address a real-world question and provide concrete, actionable solutions for Evanston to make its TIF policies more effective,” said McGuire, Kellogg’s ConAgra Foods Research Professor in Strategic Management.

Throughout the fall quarter, students:

  • Researched and studied TIF areas in Evanston and throughout the country by utilizing both city reports and academic articles
  • Heard from guest speakers representing TIF-related business sectors such as real estate development and asset management
  • Conducted field interviews with developers, business owners and real estate agents involved in TIF areas
  • Led consulting meetings with Evanston leadership

Evanston’s economic development team, which first utilized TIF in 1985 to spur downtown redevelopment, welcomed the students’ cost-effective, objective and cutting-edge analysis.

“We want to make sure we’re using TIF in a progressive, fair way and adhering to best practices. To that end, the students’ work here is invaluable,” said Paul Zalmezak, economic development coordinator for the City of Evanston.

‘An exciting puzzle’
Seth Capron ’13 said he was driven to the course by a “predisposed interest in real estate” and a desire to engage with the community outside of Kellogg. He called the experience an “exciting puzzle.”

“It’s been challenging and interesting to figure out the best practices by taking the best available data, analyzing it and producing solutions,” said Capron, a student in Kellogg’s two-year MBA program.

Classmate Eric Nyman ’13 applied for the course eager to understand development and municipal funding. The part-time Kellogg student said connecting with people throughout the development pipeline has provided rich insights into stakeholder perspectives and motivations.

“Moving forward, this experience gives me a better understanding of how to approach and communicate with people in various positions,” said Nyman, who, like Capron, relished the opportunity to address a real-world problem and create tangible solutions.

Read about the students' experience presenting their findings to the Evanston City Council.