Q&A with Core Campus COO: Why Student Housing Needs Luxury, Too
When looking for the most luxurious student housing properties, the name Core Campus kept springing up in our research. An award-winning student housing developer, the company builds dorms with tricked-out amenities we wish we had in our apartments. To get insight into the how's and why's of the company, we spoke with Core Campus COO Benjamin Modleski about luxury student housing, Core's Hub projects, and how it's changing the student housing market.
Bisnow: What was your college experience like and how did that inform your approach when you came to Core?
Benjamin Modleski: My first year in college at Penn State I lived in a three-bed, two-bath apartment, sharing my bedroom with one other male. My roommate was a great person but not exactly the cleanest or quietest. The place we lived in was dated, needing some capital improvements and had just one washer and dryer for the entire building–of about 100 students. After that year I decided to find something nicer and newer and was fortunate that a brand-new student housing complex was being developed. I decided to sign up and eventually took a job there as a leasing agent. That job was the springboard for my real estate career. Now with Core, I still remember my first year at PSU. I remember the need we all had for social interaction, for private space, for a nice place to call home. I remember all the things I liked and disliked about the various places I lived and now I have the opportunity to change those things—to make student housing better for today’s students.
Bisnow: Can you describe what the mindset of Core is in developing these radically lush student housing projects? In other words, what is the value in giving students all these amenities and comforts that even some CEOs would be envious of?
Ben: When Marc Lifshin and Brian Neiswender first approached me about their vision for Core they told me we would build a brand—one that we all could be proud of—and one that would stand out amongst all other student housing providers. They promised we’d do things right, we wouldn’t cut corners on our developments to save a few dollars, and that we would make the Hub the most extraordinary development in each market we entered. I remember seeing the price tag of a chandelier Marc had approved for the lobby in one of our first projects. At first it took me by surprise that we’d pay thousands of dollars for a light fixture—something that we can’t justify any rental increases with. But then I remembered that it is this type of extravagance and attention to detail that makes us unique. The additional million dollars on designer finishes and details that we might spend on a development are now a lasting trademark of Hub.
Bisnow: What's the mindset that Core has with each Hub project? When looking at each school and building, how does one decide which amenities to add, the style, and so on?
Ben: We go into each market open-minded. Once we’ve decided we like the land and that the unit mix works and that our financial model is sound, we then begin our intense market research. We send various teams of management and development into the town, university or neighborhood and collectively note the things that may be important to relay to our designers. Part of our process involves focus groups and surveys within the new market and, of course, we also survey residents at our current properties to see what they like and dislike at the Hub. It’s interesting from market to market to see what students find valuable, what they find cool, and what they perceive as adding no value at all.
Bisnow: The Hub buildings have been in mostly Western and Southern markets. Is Core eventually planning on looking more towards the Ivys and Northeast schools, or are you finding that these are schools more resistant to luxury spaces?
Ben: We have over 100 schools on our radar at any given time. We’ve got two of the best acquisitions guys in the business working with us and looking non-stop for the next deal/project. We have looked in the Northeast but haven’t found the right spot yet for a Hub. I believe we’ll do something in the very near future at an Ivy or Northeast school, however. The deals are looking better lately in those markets.
Bisnow: How do you think Core will continue to evolve the luxury student housing market? Do you believe the standard of luxury that you are providing will eventually be the standard?
Ben: This is something we talk about all the time. We know that great things are often imitated, and we see competitors copying everything from our marketing to our amenity packages. I don’t believe it will become the standard—in terms of the standard being something you see everywhere—because imitation isn’t easy and there are still only a handful of developers able to even come close to doing what we do. That said, we’d be foolish to rest on our laurels and not strive to be progressive. Our weekly phone calls and corporate meetings really revolve around what we can do to become better. What new thing can we bring to student housing. What can we do that has never been done before. It’s this thinking that will keep Core at the forefront of design and construction, of management and of operations.
Bisnow: On a lighter note, what is the project that you are most proud of? The amenity that you think is the coolest?
Ben: Now you are really putting me on the spot! My two favorite Hub projects so far would be Tucson and Madison. In Tucson, I’m very proud not just of the product but of the standard of management we have brought to the market. There are a few other projects that compete with us on design, floor plans, etc., but when you combine that with management and operations, I think we are head and shoulders above everyone else. We consistently hear things in that market about how our project is managed well—and of course it doesn’t hurt leasing to have Bluetooth showerheads, hot tubs on terraces, the biggest outdoor TV in the city, and a prime location.
In Madison, we have arguably the best located off-campus student housing property in America. I don’t know how you can get a better location than right on State Street just steps from campus and a short walk to the Capitol. It also has two amenities that were firsts for Hub—a band room complete with recording equipment you’d expect to find at a high-end studio and an outdoor ice rink. Personally I’m a warm weather guy, but in Wisconsin I think our team nailed it with the amenity package: large, forward-thinking and market–right. I can’t give the development team enough praise.