Orlando — Were there one take-home message from the second annual InterFace On-Campus Housing Conference, it would be that public-private partnerships that use alternative financing to build housing on university land are on the rise.
Decision-makers from universities and student housing developers are meeting for informative conference panels and networking events at the conference at the Swan Hotel and Resort in Orlando. A full conference agenda concluded Nov. 7 with a tour of campus housing at the University of Central Florida.
Many here are focused on process improvement, from both the university and the business sides of these popular styles of relationships. Primarily because P3s are, or will soon be, a reality on many campuses that face significant decreases in state funding and the need to preserve university debt capacity for other capital projects. The conference began, for instance, with informal roundtables led, mostly, by private-sector moderators on topics aimed at university staff, such as how to write a clear and concise RFP and how to manage the effects of selecting a private partner, and even how to communicate effectively with those partners who were not chosen.
Programming on Nov. 6 included a panel entitled “lessons learned from off-campus student housing,” which was led by David Pearce, Ross Robb and Rachel Kihn of Inland American Communities. “Embrace off-campus student housing,” Kihn, Inland’s vice president of marketing, told the crowd. “It helps sell your university.”
“The number-one deciding factor for students selecting where they live is where their friends live, so our business reputation is more important than even our marketing.” Kihn added that management at Inland properties mirrors residence life on-campus, so that living in Inland’s University House-branded communities is the next-best choice after on-campus accommodations.
Norbert Dunkel, associate vice president for student affairs for the University of Florida, was this year’s keynote speaker. Dunkel was something of a peacemaker in his talk, urging university personnel to be more trusting of private real estate developers, and asking the developers in the room to know the importance of university roles and terminology prior to entering into negotiations.
We’ll have more detailed coverage of the event and topics from InterFace On-Campus Housing 2014 in coming days.