A Brief-ish History of Core
To understand who we are today, you need to understand how we got here. Core started before Core. It was a dream shared by three guys with very different backgrounds. This is the story of how we made it real and created one of the industry’s most pioneering companies.
Gotta Start Somewhere
In the late 90’s Brian Neiswender (Neis for short), Barry Howard and I were loving life at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I was a structural engineering student learning how to build things. Neis was working his way through school in the bars and at Roland Realty—one of the largest family-owned realtors in Champaign. Barry was hitting the books and racking up A’s, no surprise there.
We didn’t know it but we were learning the fundamentals of our business. School taught me how to think and solve problems, and my internship with Keeley Construction in Chicago taught me how the industry works. Neis was managing Roland’s student housing portfolio, learning how to connect with people and get things done. Barry was learning how to lift up the people around him, like by letting me cheat off him in our C+ programming class (not proud, but true). This is also when a college buddy named Brian Goldberg and I began noodling an idea to launch a company building dope homes after we graduated. That idea became the kernel of Core, but I’m getting ahead of the story.
The Wonder Years
After graduation we all went our own ways. I lived the ski bum dream working at Vail resorts in Colorado. Neis stayed on at Roland, becoming a partner at 23—officially cementing his local legend status. Barry took a consulting gig at Accenture. By 2002, I was back in Chicago slinging copiers for IKON. My brilliant idea was to take this sales job, make a bunch of money, and use it to start the business Goldberg and I had sketched out. That didn’t go as planned—selling copiers is no joke. In 2002, I bit the bullet and left that job to start my own development business.
I hit the pavement to find investors and reconnected with Neis. He introduced me to some capital sources for my first few residential projects. I also reunited with Goldberg, who was developing his own residential projects. In late 2002, Goldberg and I formed LG Development Group to build one-of-a-kind homes. Barry was our first hire and brought on as a partner. We had a blast at LG developing more than 150 custom single-family homes, ranging from $1 million up to $30 million. Over time we expanded the portfolio to include multifamily, condos, and restaurants.
In 2004, Neis went on to co-found a student housing firm called Campus Acquisitions (now called CA Ventures). When CA wanted to move into property development, they brought in LG as their development partner. We delivered our first project together—309 Green—in 2008. The 24-story, amenity-rich student housing property was the tallest building in Champaign. Looking back, we had no right building a project of that scale. But we learned a lot of lessons, and met a lot of people who would go on to shape Core.
When Talent and Passion Align
After developing several large-scale projects as partners, we realized that Neis’s background in managing student housing and my expertise in high-end residential development made us a natural fit to form our own student housing venture. In 2010 I left the CA partnership to launch Core Campus with Neiswender. We also convinced Barry to join and help us build an ecosystem in the education market. Our idea was to be the Google of student housing—always progressive, always innovating. Our first project was Hub on Campus Tempe, a 19-story, 637-bed student housing property located next to the football stadium at Arizona State University.
Ideate. Innovate. Localize. Repeat.
Tempe proved out our strategy to develop Main on Main real estate at top tier state universities. We believed—and still do—that if there’s ever a pullback in enrollment, these universities will be the least impacted. Following completion in 2013 and a successful lease-up during construction, we sold the Tempe property later that year for $103 million—one of the highest-priced transactions for a single, purpose-built student housing project at the time. The success of Tempe energized the company. We did two Hub projects a year from 2013 to 2015, and started scaling up once we stabilized. Today, Core can handle up to eight new developments a year.
As we grew, we saw a big innovation gap in the education sector. We realized that data-driven decision making and a design oriented approach could create tremendous value, not just in new developments but in acquisitions and value adds as well. To capitalize on those opportunities, we rebranded as Core Spaces, launched our acquisitions platform, and expanded into high-end mixed-use projects—hotels, retail, office space. We’re now one of a few firms who can build a diversified portfolio of ground-up developments, value adds, and acquisitions.
That brings us to today. Since inception, Core has delivered ~$5b in real estate with another ~$8b currently in construction or pipeline. We’ve won six of the last seven awards for top development of the year. In 2019, we swept the major awards. We did it again in 2020. We didn’t get there by working in silos and doing things the same way, year after year. We did it by constantly collaborating and innovating.
We Invent the Future of Living
Our next step is building a true ecosystem, from student housing, build to rent and beyond. The hardest thing is getting residents, so why let them go? Let’s give them the best places to live in college, and the best places to live after college. Hell, let’s move them in and help furnish their new pad. We’ve already started our own internet and cable company to provide the best service, our own app to help residents live better, and F+B partnerships to keep them fed well.
What’s next? That’s up to you. Let’s think of the unattainable goal, and shoot for right below. If we all do that, year after year, there’s no limit to where we can go. No limit to how much our buildings can change a person’s life and the world they go on to shape. I promise, if we take these hard-won history lessons to heart, the future of living is ours to write.
What have we learned along the way?
Always ask questions
Don’t make assumptions or settle for the status quo. No matter your role or where you are in your career, always ask “Why?” Because brilliant ideas can come from anywhere, and they’re often right in front of you.
It’s all about relationships
DRW (our long-term equity partner), HPA Architects, Evans (our owners rep), BD Construction, and Studio K (our interior design partner)—they’ve all been with us from the start. Our network of brokers, property owners, investors, and countless incredible hires along the way. Our relationships propel us forward. Building them is everything.
Innovate for the win
We invented the purpose built, urban infill student housing model. When everyone was building miles away, we took an urban planning mindset—density, height, mixed-use—and put up a high rise in the middle of campus. That changed student housing forever. Our job now is to keep innovating that model, and invent better places for people to live after graduation, and beyond.
A lot of vertically integrated companies struggle because their development and management arms aren’t in sync. We make sure those two arms are constantly communicating. There’s just no other way to make a great place to live. It’s got to be built right and it’s got to be run right.