Urban Land Institute program builds diversity in development.


Byline: Anne Bretts

Jean Kane remembers starting out in commercial real estate 30 years ago.

"I walked into my first meeting and it was a sea of white guys in navy suits," she said.

Today Kane is the CEO of Minnetonka-base Colliers International U.S., the former national chair of the industry organization NAIOP and the current chair of the Urban Land Institute Minnesota where women hold five of nine seats on the management committee.

Kane isn't ready to claim victory in the effort to make her profession more diverse, however.

"I think we're making strides, but it's still more male-dominated," she said.

One way the Urban Land Institute is working to change the makeup of the people in those meeting rooms and to encourage independent developers is a relatively new program called the Real Estate Diversity Initiative, dubbed REDi.

The program, launched in 2017, gives mid-career women and people of color a chance to build the skills and relationships they need to be invited to work on development teams or develop their own projects. The students have experience in property management, flipping homes or various areas of commercial real estate, but aren't in career paths that would lead to developing new projects.

The organization received 32 applications by Thursday's deadline for the 30 slots available in the third year of the program. Those chosen to participate pay $300 and commit to attend all 15 sessions, which run from January through June.

Aubrey Albrecht, senior director in the Minnesota ULI chapter, said the local program was inspired by a similar program the Denver chapter launched 10 years ago.

"It initially started as a mentorship program, and they quickly realized that mentoring isn't enough," she said.

The program starts with an actual development site, whose owner acts as the client.

Participants work in three teams, mentored by architects, financial experts and other professionals. Each team creates a site plan, marketing strategy and financial plan. At the end of the course the teams make their presentations to the property owner. Owners aren't under obligation to choose a plan, but using a real site allows participants to deal with real issues, such as zoning, utilities, permits, financing and winning support of neighbors.

City officials and neighborhood groups have been very supportive, participating in discussions of plans and giving feedback.

For example, the 2017 site was a location on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue...

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