Multidisciplinary team places second in annual Case Competition on Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate

Diverse graduate student team showcases eco-friendly, affordable development blending modern amenities and Miami’s rich history.
Multidisciplinary team places second in annual Case Competition on Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate
University of Miami team members, from left to right, Mischaël Cetoute, Gonzalo Alonso, Aminata Sam, Jessica Drenkhahn, and Nicholas Levin.

Students from various University of Miami graduate programs made a lasting impression by securing second place in Miami Herbert’s Case Competition on Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate 2023.

The team, comprised of students Amina Sam in Miami Herbert’s MBA in Real Estate program; Nicholas Levin and Gonzalo Alonso in the School of Architecture’s Master of Real Estate Development + Urbanism (MRED+U) program; and Jessica Drenkhahn and Mischaël Cetoute in the School of Law’s LL.M. in Real Property Development program, presented their project titled “The Earlington.”

Focusing on the natural landscape and local community, the team devised an eco-friendly and affordable development that addresses Miami's unique challenges. The Earlington is a visionary Miami transportation hub and residential development offering mixed-income housing and flexible leases for diverse occupants. Combining modern amenities with vintage decor, The Earlington emphasizes transit-oriented, "live-work-play," and double-mixing urban trends while valuing history and place-making.

The vision for The Earlington was inspired by its location near the Earlington Heights Metrorail station.

“Initially, we approached the site by examining the natural barriers and surrounding neighborhood—Brownsville,” said the team. “We quickly realized that our proximity to the airport, beach, and downtown business district made this site uniquely rich, and it had two scarce Miami features—high ground and public transit.”

Inspired by Miami-based painter Reginald O’Neal, the team began exploring Miami’s Black History, which led them to the Historic Hampton House and the Oscar-nominated film "One Night in Miami.” That exploration served as the catalyst for The Earlington’s hospitality phase featuring a food hall, local vendors, and a focus on Miami's history, supporting local Black businesses.   

In addition to enhancing their understanding of responsible investing in real estate, the competition allowed students to experience the collaborative nature of the industry and the significance of public-private partnerships.

“Real estate is a team sport,” said Cetoute. “Any successful development requires a world-class artist-architect, a mathematician, a legal/local politico, an engineer, alongside countless others. This competition looks more like real work in the real estate industry than anything we've been asked to read or discuss in the classroom.”

As they move forward in their academic and professional careers, they plan to apply the valuable insights gained from the competition to their future endeavors to contribute positively to the commercial real estate and impact investing sectors.

"Every year, I am so excited to see the projects all of the teams submit; they are very creative and so committed to impactful investing,” said Andrea Heuson, Miami Herbert professor of finance and academic director of real estate programs, who organizes the annual contest. “The team’s second-place finish is not only a testament to the power of collaboration but also an example of the exciting possibilities in urban development when innovative minds come together to build a better future."

Eight teams from universities across the United States submitted their visions for real estate developments that provide social and environmental impact during the competition.

Finalist teams from Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Rutgers University, and the University of Miami came together on campus to present their proposals to industry experts Kevin Fitzpatrick, CEO of Spring Bay Properties; Adriana de Alcantara, senior managing director of Hines, and Manuel Martin of KIUM Investments. The Rutgers University team placed first and was awarded $10,000; the runner-up University of Miami team received $7,000; the University of Chicago team placed third and received $5,000; and Columbia University came in fourth place and received $3,000.

Now in its seventh year, the competition has garnered attention among top real estate programs for its real-life value and emphasis on impact investing, a niche area of commercial real estate dedicated to community-enhancing projects through socially and environmentally focused designs.