MidwestCRE Student housing experts say industry is growing in Chicago, nationally Stephanie Aguilar April 4, 2017 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share via email The Student Housing: State of the Market conference, hosted by Illinois Real Estate Journal, kicked off early morning on June 25, at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center with plenty of coffee for the 150 early risers that were in attendance. Rob Bronstein, president and co-founder of Scion Group, led the conference with an informational presentation on the national student housing market standpoint and its transformation over the years. Rob Natke, principal at Urbanworks, was the moderator of the panel that consisted of: Justin Gronlie, vice president at Harrison Street Real Estate Capital; Michael Higgins, associate director at HFF; Jack Boarman, founder and partner at BKV Group, Inc.; Ken Gorman, senior vice president at Power Construction; Peter Schlecht, senior project manager at Loyola University Chicago; and Brian O’Leary, asset manager of commercial investment portfolio at Loyola University Chicago. Among the many topics within student housing, the focus Thursday was on the latest trends in design and construction, financing and investing, and location and innovation in the student housing market. Bronstein’s brought the facts and statistics of student housing’s developing market, which touched on the demand from the student and parents to a developer’s outlook on attractive markets and communities. He also discussed Scion’s involvement with student housing in Chicago, noting some of the work its done for DePaul University in building and operating its University Center, 1700-bed project in the South Loop and the 1237 Lofts in Lincoln Park. “Just as the student housing business has become more of a national institutional business, we’ve shifted our focus as well,” Bronstein said. “We’ve been in business just over 15 years, which is not a long time but in student housing, it is. It’s dog years.” One of the more interesting facts that Bronstein touched on was the concept of technology and its affect on the changing student housing market. “I cannot stress enough how important the technology is of consumers, our customers,” he said. “The joke is that water, electricity and heat can all go out as long as the internet still works.” He said it’s gotten to the point now where consumers are phasing out cable television service or satellite service in lieu of buying the most over-the-top broadband package they can possibly get. “A lot of our buildings now have 1 gig speed, just to give you an idea,” Bronstein continued. “You can download a two hour, high-definition movie in seven seconds in a lot of these buildings and it gives big buildings that were designed for this an advantage over the older buildings, which either are too small or don’t have a back bone to handle that.” Later in the panel, Schlecht also had a thing to say about new technology and sustainability of these buildings. “It’s getting students to understand the environmental aspects of buildings to the point where we’re putting in $500 thermostats so they can program their own thermostat on their thumb technology,” he said. Apart from technological upgrades, students tend to select where they live based on many components, according to Boarman. When Natke asked Boarman what students are looking for and what their parents look for, Boarman said what they look for are different, but parents are a big part of the selection of the location for their child. “Students are looking for the next major step in their life and they are looking for a social community,” he said. “They’re looking for an extension of the university, an environment that’s going to be secure and safe for them.” Boarman added that 60-percent of BKV Group’s university students are remote and they are looking for environments where they can roam, learn, have fun and have their own bathroom. “So the concept of designing a project that really enriches their lives and builds their social communities is very important to both the parents and students, and that embodies a whole other course of opportunities from the design standpoint, from the small boutique private projects to bedrooms, to larger projects with four bedroom suites and some mini-dorm concepts,” he said. Boarman said it’s a very exciting time for an architect and for builders and developers, adding that the developer begins a project with a vision and the architect follows through. As for parents, he said they will ultimately stick to a facility that’s safe, a good financial investment and specifically want an environment that provides the kind of extended education community that’s also a traditional dorm-style college experience that parents had when they were at school.