Graduate students defeat UCLA team in real estate competition


(Left to right) Master of real estate development students Cutter MacLeod, Lindsey Mills, Christopher Kovel, Leah Mogabgab and Walker Wood pose after winning the Silver Shovel trophy for beating UCLA in the NAIOP Real Estate Challenge on Nov. 16. Photo courtesy of Tony Kawashima

Two days before USC’s football team defeated UCLA at the Coliseum, graduate students from two USC schools beat their crosstown counterparts in another field — real estate planning.

On Nov. 16, the USC Marshall School of Business and Price School of Public Policy took home the coveted Silver Shovel prize at the NAIOP SoCal USC vs. UCLA Real Estate Challenge.

For the past 20 years, the challenge has showcased graduate student teams of five from the Ziman Center of Real Estate at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the Lusk Center for Real Estate at Marshall and Price schools. The teams go head-to-head to create the best use for a specified land site.

This year,  master of real estate development students Cutter MacLeod, Lindsey Mills, Christopher Kovel, Leah Mogabgab and Walker Wood developed the winning proposal for Sky Studios. They proposed transforming the site in question — eight acres of land at the corner of Maple Avenue and Douglas Street in El Segundo, Calif. — into a state-of-the-art content and media campus for companies like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

“We took a step back and thought about what industries were driving the economy, and it was always the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, [so] we kind of wanted to jump onto that wave,” MacLeod said. “We wanted to put forth a proposal that was exciting and transformative for El Segundo, and one that the actual developer would be inclined to build.”

Prior to the competition, each team member was required to go through an audition process conducted by the master in real estate development program director. Since there was a variety of roles required for the competition, each member had a specialized background in areas like architecture, finance or brokerage, which ultimately helped the members strengthen their ideas for the land site.

“It’s cool because we all come into the [MRED] program with different backgrounds,” Mills said. “We of course learn from each other in the program, but in the competition, it’s all of those skillsets put together, and you really have to work together.”

Immediately after the team was finalized, the next six weeks consisted of pulling all-nighters and working on the project non-stop. According to MacLeod, a week and a half into the competition, the students had the basic points of their idea already nailed down, but after a few meetings with several developers, who suggested other ideas, they started to doubt their plan.

“We spent the next two days spinning our wheels and arguing with each other,” MacLeod said. “That sucked because it set us back, but in the end, it was positive because once we decided to go back to our original plan, we had some alternatives mapped out and really thought them through [and realized that] we wouldn’t and shouldn’t be doing anything else. That was tough, but it was necessary.”

Despite these early setbacks in the competition, the team members said they succeeded in determining the best use for the El Segundo site.

“It was amazing, and we were kind of in shock for the first 20 minutes,” MacLeod said. “The coolest part was when the developer himself told us that it was one of the best proposals he had ever seen, and he was taking photos of the whole thing. We felt like we put together a really good proposal, something that we were really proud of.”

  • Noble Lau

    Can creating proposals like the one created here lead to good opportunities to work with Land Developers?