By definition, there can only be a few cornerstones of Chicago CRE. (Start building more octagonal buildings and maybe we’ll rethink that.) But we know one of them is Marshall Bennett. We recently caught up with Marshall over breakfast to get some insight into his 60-plus years on the scene.

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Marshall (snapped with Neil Bluhm) and partner Louis Kahnweiler started industrial firm Bennett & Kahnweiler in 1946 when the war ended, with financial support from Jay Pritzker. He and Jay met in their teens over lunch at the Bismarck Hotel. Marshall was a 16-year-old freshman at UChicago and Jay was a 15-year-old sophomore at Northwestern (talk about childhood prodigies!). A strong friendship blossomed, and Marshall admits to later giving colorblind Jay the answers to pass the test and join the Air Force (he crashed the first plane he flew). Soon Jay became the money behind Bennett & Kahnweiler’s innovative industrial parks (they eventually built 26 of them across the country).

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In 1976, Marshall hit his head on a rock while kayaking, putting his life on pause. When he returned to work, he was unhappy with new partners the company had taken on and decided go off on his own. (As we all know, that firm stuck with brokerage over development and turned into today’s international behemoth, Colliers). There was another silver lining: while taking time off, Marshall held the inaugural Marshall Bennett Classic at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho. Now in its 35th year, the legendary gathering of real estate royalty continues to create teamwork and collaboration in an often solitary and fiercely competitive business.

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These days, the 91-year-old is busy as ever with an eclectic array of projects. He has helped raise $11M for the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt, he’s working for peace in the Middle East by fostering Israeli/Palestinian commerce (he’s been to Israel 46 times), and he sits on the board of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Did we mention the Clinton Global Initiative? He’s helping them on issues of obesity and healthy food for school children (the group has also enlisted his grown grandchildren, experimental farmers in New Hampshire).

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Marshall has seen the industrial market evolve, changing from solitary warehouses dotting the country to an incredibly organized, cohesive system linked by shipping and rail. His advice for longevity is similar: keep moving! (Sitting at home on social media isn’t his “cup of tea.”) He works out almost five days a week, preferring the elliptical to reduce pounding and increase body movement. He’s adamantly anti-love handles, plus exercise keeps his mind working better. “I’m trying to help things happen in the world, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it,” he says.

Students from Roosevelt University’s Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate won the 2013 Eisenberg Foundation (HEEF) Midwest Real Estate Challenge, which took place on April 6 at The Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Ct., Chicago.

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Seven other schools competed in this third Eisenberg Challenge including Indiana University, University of Pennysylvania, University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University, Marquette University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Notre Dame to receive a trophy and a $5,000 scholarship for the University.

The Roosevelt team was comprised of real estate students: Moruf Animaushaun, Karlen Beitman, Jessica Caffrey, Holly Kavis, David Lambiaso, Nida Mehtab, Chase Morris, Sarah Rothman, Andrew Savoy, and Drakia Wilkins.

Dean Terri Friel, dean of the Heller College of Business, had nothing but praise for the winning Roosevelt students. “I am really proud of this accomplishment. We competed last year for the first time and were edged out by Marquette. We came back strong this year and came in first place. This is a great accomplishment for the real estate program, the business college, and the entire university.”

In addition to the trophy and scholarship, the victorious students will be recognized in October at HEEF”s Annual Dinner, which draws hundreds of leading real estate executives and leaders from around the country.

The Roosevelt group’s winning plan, known as The Marquette Park Promenade, envisioned retail and grocery stores, educational and health facilities and community sports areas to be developed over a ten-year period on former industrial and abandoned retail sites. The sustainable and community-driven development would boost the culture, economy and sense of community in the surrounding neighborhood, the Roosevelt team said. One of its innovative design features was the utilization of railroad shipping containers (the site is adjacent to the massive CXS 59th Street intermodel yard) for shop and office spaces.

James Wilson of the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development called the Roosevelt team’s concept realistic and said, “it shows that you truly thought about the good of the community.”

Held each spring, the HEEF competition provides students with hands-on opportunity to apply what they have learned in university courses to the real world of real estate. The competition challenges students to create a complete development plan for a selected site in the Chicago area. This year’s site was proposed by the Sears Holdings Corporation around the existing Sears store at 62nd street which would anchor redevelopment on a total of 38 acres in total. Sears is proposing similar innovative redevelopment in other urban locations in the U.S. with one of the first being in St. Paul.

The competition judges were Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest: Cortez Carter, managing deputy commissioner at the City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation; Micah Maidenberg, a Crain’s Chicago Business Reporter; and Alfred M. Klairmont, President, Imperial Realty Company and Chairman of the Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation Education Committee.

This is blog on an Honors Class undertaken in fall 2012 entitled Building Chicago  – with insights that the faculty and students obtained studying pivotal projects in Chicago.  New items are being added all the time – so stay tuned.

The first installment of the Building Chicago blog is now online. The first post is on the Auditorium to be followed by class narratives on the Monadnock, Second Lieter, and Marquette.  For those who watch PBS Masterpiece Theater, I will also be slipping in a piece on Selfridge and Chicago: The Backstory.

You can subscribe to the blog (go to http://sites.roosevelt.edu/hbarnett/) and share it. 

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