A rendering of the winning project plan from the Cornell University team.

A redevelopment plan for a Toronto site presented by a team from Cornell University has taken top honors in the 2018 ULI Hines Student Competition, an ideas competition that provides graduate students the opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development scheme for a large-scale site in an urban area. Members of the Cornell team were awarded a prize of $50,000 at the conclusion of the competition in Toronto on April 5. The other finalist teams, one from the University of Maryland and two from the Georgia Institute of Technology, were each awarded $10,000.

The 2018 competition reflected development plans being considered as part of Toronto’s vision for reviving the neighborhoods east of the city’s historic downtown. Participants were assigned the task of creating a master development plan for the redevelopment of parcels adjacent to the Don River as a thriving mixed-use community that would catalyze other development, including additional commercial, retail, and residential space, and connect residential neighborhoods in the city’s northeast section to commercial neighborhoods in the southern section. The 2018 winner and finalists were chosen from 130 teams representing nearly 60 universities in the United States and Canada. Team proposals were required to illustrate innovative approaches to five general elements: 1) planning context and analysis, 2) a master land use plan, 3) urban design, 4) site-specific illustrations of new development, and 5) development schedule and finances.

Cornell’s winning scheme, “Montage,” is a transformational mixed-use development at the junction of Toronto’s downtown and East End neighborhoods. The proposal envisions an environmentally sustainable cultural hub that integrates cinema, creative industries, and Toronto’s park system to provide a unique outlet for expression and lifestyle. Montage embraces the future of urban transportation by providing both public transit and a thoughtful street grid that accommodates private vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. It enhances the urban fabric with distinctive plazas, tree-lined streets, and industrial facades, reminiscent of the late 19th century.

Jury chairman Carl Weisbrod, senior adviser at HR&A Advisors in New York City, said Cornell’s proposal stood out because it was the most thorough and most coherent of all the presentations. “Each of the proposals had strengths and weaknesses, but the Cornell team really took a deep dive into the economics of the assignment: they prepared a market analysis, a cost analysis, an impressive financial plan, and a site plan that was feasible and which worked,” he said. “All the finalists had interesting and creative ideas, but on balance, theirs was the strongest.”

The Cornell team was composed of Peter Romano (team leader), joint master of regional planning and master of real estate; Gary Esposito, master of architecture; Paul Heydweiller, master of real estate; Rawinthira Narksusook, master of real estate; and Jamie Mitchell, master of architecture. The team was advised by Suzanne Lanyi Charles, assistant professor, city and regional planning.

“Being able to create a change in a community—that is what this was about,” Romano said. “It takes an interdisciplinary team to do that because none of us by ourselves knows all of what goes into it. Everyone brought something to the process, and it was an amazing experience.”

The Hines Student Competition was created with a generous endowment from longtime ULI leader Gerald Hines, founder of the Hines real estate organization. “I look forward to this competition every year, and to see these bright young people who come forth with outstanding ideas and projects,” said Hines, who attended the competition’s finale. “They are the future of the real estate industry.”

The competition jury consisted of renowned experts from diverse backgrounds in real estate finance, design, and development, including four leading members from ULI Toronto who provided insight into whether proposals considered local cultural, economic, and political issues.

In addition to Weisbrod, jury members were: Paul Bedford, chairman, Waterfront Toronto Design Review Panel and former Toronto chief city planner, Toronto; Robert E. Engstrom, president, Robert Engstrom Companies, Minneapolis; Merrie S. Frankel, president, Minerva Realty Consultants LLC, New York City; Bruce Kuwabara, partner, KPMB Architects, Toronto; Raymond C. Mikulich, managing partner and chief investment officer, Ridgeline Capital Group, New York City; Sharmil Modi, principal, Modi Adventureprises Boston; Vicki R. Mullins, executive vice president/chief financial officer, Newland Real Estate Group, San Diego; Alex Rose, senior vice president, Continental Development Corporation, El Segundo, California; Jamie Simchik, principal, Simchik Planning and Development, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Megan Torza, partner, DTAH, Toronto; and Leslie Woo, chief planning and development officer, Metrolinx, Toronto.

Weisbrod noted that while there is no intent that any of the proposals would be implemented, “they were real enough to spark activity,” he said. “What this competition demonstrates is the importance of this site to Toronto’s evolution.”

Engstrom, whose ULI involvement spans decades, was impressed with proposals that anticipated future changes in land uses, particularly the adaptability of parking facilities to the evolution of driverless technology. The 2018 competition marked Engstrom’s second time judging entries; he also was on the jury for the 2013 competition, which challenged the teams to create a redevelopment scheme for a section of the Downtown East neighborhood in Minneapolis. That experience convinced him of the potential of the students’ ideas to pique the interest of the private and public sector, and possibly have some effect on actual land use decisions.

“The student’s presentations raised the profile for the east side of Minneapolis, which needed some redevelopment,” Engstrom recalled. The revitalization that has occurred there over the past five years—including the opening of the U.S. Bank Stadium and the Commons, an urban park—has “made the area come alive,” he said.

Simchik, a ULI Young Leader, participated in the competition as a graduate student in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Being on the “other side” and narrowing the entries down to one winner was a learning experience in terms of factors the jury considers versus what students prioritize, he said. “You are taught in design school to push boundaries, but at the end of the day, the project has to be feasible,” he said, noting that “being creative while grounded in reality” is what made the finalists’ proposals stand out.

The program is part of an ongoing ULI effort to raise interest among young people in creating better communities and improving urban development patterns, as well as increase awareness among students of the need for interdisciplinary solutions to development and design challenges. The competition is strategically structured to encourage cooperation and teamwork—necessary talents in the planning, design, and development of sustainable communities—among future land use professionals and allied professions, such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, engineering, real estate development, finance, psychology, and law. It is open to graduate students who are pursuing real estate–related studies at universities in the United States and Canada, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture, and landscape architecture.