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Larry Silverstein presents “Looking Up: The New Downtown”

Students and alumni found themselves with the World Trade Center site laid out at their feet earlier this month, when real estate magnate Larry Silverstein presented “Looking Up: The New Downtown” for the ire@l Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series at his downtown Manhattan offices.

From the tenth floor, guests got a bird’s eye view of ongoing construction at the World Trade Center site, and the 9/11 memorial park and twin reflecting pools, before hearing Silverstein’s perspectives on development, personal passion, and New York City resilience during the program presented by Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh (ire@l).

“The setting could not have been a more fitting place to celebrate Lehigh’s enormous success with its signature real estate program, as well as to set the stage for future successes,” said Paul R. Brown, dean of the College of Business and Economics.

Silverstein regaled the group of more than 100 alumni and almost 30 students with the story behind the development of the World Trade Center site, touching on nuances ranging from real estate taxes and security and environmental issues, to the cost of electricity. The large scope and inherent emotional nature of the project, he said, created a host of challenges.

“The rebuilding effort didn’t follow a straight line,” he said. “We had many different perspectives. What drove us at the end of the day was a passion to create something better… It was critically important to do something positive for downtown. We needed to show the world that New York City would come back stronger than before.”

Silverstein told students his favorite part of the process was coordinating the building designs. Because of tight timeframes, budgets, and the need for the designs to complement each other, Silverstein invited the architects to work together in his building and carefully managed the process. “We had a countdown clock on the wall – days, hours, minutes, seconds left,” he told the audience, “And every night, every architect had to put their work up on the walls, so everyone could see everyone else’s work.”

Lucy Zhang ’13 said the presentation broadened her perspectives. “It showed us a real world person, not just a classroom example, and New York is just such an important market,” she said. “Silverstein was inspiring. He gave us an idea of what it takes to succeed. It’s tough work.”

For Allison Zamfir ’13, the takeaway was about going after what you want. “Silverstein had no hesitation. He assembled a team to make it work, and blocked out the noise,” she said. “I’m more conservative, so it’s great to see someone care so much about something and to have the passion to go for it.”

The Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series was created in 2009 by Lehigh trustee Tara Stacom ’80 in order to connect Lehigh students and alumni with notable figures in the field of real estate. Stacom is the leasing agent for One World Trade Center and recently brokered a milestone one million square foot deal with Condé Nast.

Stacom had attended Larry Silverstein’s real estate workshops at New York University early in her career and endowed the Lehigh series to provide a similar experience. “The Silverstein Workshops brought the industry to life in a classroom. Having speakers interact with students gives them a far better understanding. It seemed to me a missing element in the program that needed further support.”

“That exchange that happens at the end of a presentation - you can’t get that experience out of a textbook,” she said. “It’s a real dialogue. It gives students a sense of the passion we have, and when you have that passion, it makes excelling so much easier.”

David Ledy ’70 was one of a handful of alumni who explored the construction site as part of a guided tour. “It was a great tour. It is such a special project, because of the importance to the country. It’s private and it’s public, and it’s done on a scale you don’t ordinarily see. What a source of pride for Lehigh that so many alumni are involved in so many ways.”

The ire@l program, which was launched in 2001, offers students from any college a real estate curriculum that complements their major and minor fields of study. Students study engineering, law, architecture, finance, accounting, and more. Coursework is supplemented with a variety of out of the classroom experiences that enhance students’ exposure to the “hands on” world of real estate. 

Stephen Thode, director of the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies, said the ire@l program is thriving, thanks to alumni and friends. “The quality of the students is terrific and we have record enrollments across the board. The students are bright and hardworking kids with a passion for real estate.”

The Stacom Family Endowed Executive Speaker Series, he said, gives students real-world insights into the field. “Students can easily see the end result, but don’t always get to see how you get there. These programs show that process, and lessons learned along the way.”

Commented Paul Brown, “With the support of alumni like Tara Stacom and so many others, as well as leaders like Professor Thode, I’m sure that our programs will grow to new heights of excellence.”

Past series speakers have included Marc Holliday ’88, CEO of SL Green Realty Corp., and Robert Lapidus ’13P, president and CIO of L&L Holding Company, LLC.

Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012
--Janet Norwood