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Project Destined students prepare mock Mott Haven development pitches

Five teams from the program compete for $25,000 in scholarships - with A-Rod and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. among the judges.

From left: Project Destined participant Eduardo Iriarte Ibanez,

From left: Project Destined participant Eduardo Iriarte Ibanez, 15, of the Bronx, Mark Gaudette, a mentor who works at Brookfield, Anisha Pednekar, 21, of the Bronx, and Robert Li, a mentor who works at Brookfield, focus on a slide presentation.  Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

A group of students concluded their pitch on a $50 million development in Mott Haven by reminding those listening of the group's name — Destined Development — and repeating in unison its tagline, "Built by the Bronx for the Bronx." 

Dan Teper, managing director of Brookfield Asset Management's Real Estate Investments, suggested the five-and-a-half minute talk, which was rife with technical terms such as triple net lease and cap rate, could benefit from summarizing some aspects of the sought-after partnership.

And Barbara Brocklebank, a program facilitator at the Beyond Words Consulting firm tapped to advise the youth, suggested the students periodically shift their gaze from whoever is presenting to the audience.

"Imagine they're saying the most valuable information at that point in time that you could ever possibly hear," Anisha Pednekar, 21, said, recapping the advice to teammates last weekend. 

Come Saturday, Pednekar and her peers will pull from their training at Project Destined, a nonprofit focused on teaching urban youth real estate and professional skills while promoting property ownership. At the NBA headquarters, five teams that trained with Project Destined will vie for a total of $25,000 in scholarships before a panel of judges that includes Project Destined's co-founders, Cedric Bobo and Fred Greene, Alex Rodriguez, Brookfield Property Group Chairman Ric Clark, NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. 

"They're going to take their full six months of experiences, and they're going to put it into a final presentation," Bobo said. "You're going to be getting feedback from the Bronx borough president and the chairman of Brookfield about what's great, but also what's possible. The hope is that they'll take that feedback, and then they'll start again in the fall."

After a pilot program last year, Project Destined launched this fall with 60 students, most of whom live in the Bronx. The initiative paired teams with leaders who have or are earning MBAs from Harvard University and who are studying real estate at a Columbia University's graduate level. The groups also work with mentors from Brookfield, which recently purchased property in Mott Haven, where it plans to invest $950 million in a 1,300-apartment project.

"You got this population of students, who see this change happening, but it has not been demystified for them. You got all the Brookfield folks, who are moving into a new area. We try and be the conversation piece," said Bobo.

"The word gentrification always gets thrown around," he continued. "So much of gentrification is a statement about, 'I don't know what's going on, but I just feel like it's being done to me.' … We want to give you the skills and the resources to participate."

Bobo said he hopes Project Destined alumni will continue on when the sixth-month session concludes. And after three years in the Bronx, the nonprofit aims to invest in local endeavors, with some of the profits getting funneled back to participants as scholarships. Until then, Bobo said the initiative regularly hands out some aid to participants.

"For the student who really gets it, there's a longer term incentive of earning a portion of our profits. But even for those who really are trying to learn entrepreneurship, we still believe there's tremendous merit to that. So they get some interim award," Bobo said. 

Students work through six modules: Design, construction, financing, operations, market research, and presentation and storytelling while gaining exposure to the workings of a professional environment. 

Early in the fall, the teams get a brief one-line description of the concept they will enhance as they gain a greater understanding of the industry. Pednekar, who is studying finance, alternative investment and computer science at Fordham University, said her team was tasked with planning a multifamily, residential building, with ground-floor beauty and retail space.

She said they thought about several practicalities, including the budget, timeline and profitability of the project. But the team also drew on its familiarity with the neighborhood to factor in what residents would want, proposing to carve out space for a boutique makeup store, juice bar, barber shop, spa and salon and shop showcasing local entrepreneurs' ideas, according to the team's preliminary presentation.

"Every single one of us thinks about the Bronx in a different way … So it was a big coming to terms with: OK, what does this area actually need,'" Pednekar said, noting that promoting a healthy lifestyle was a priority for many. "Local entrepreneurs from the Bronx can come in, and they can take on a one- to six-month lease in the space and essentially test out their new product and see if it would actually do well as a business in the Bronx."

Pednekar said Project Destined has revived her dream of working as a developer. Although she has long been interested in real estate, Pednekar said she lost sight of the idea after spending a summer working for a development team comprised of mostly older, white men.

"I started thinking that I was incapable," Pednekar said. "[Project Destined] gave me the information in such an accessible way. Everyone around me looked, sounded and acted like something I was familiar with. … It finally made me realize that I could do this — I can actually be a developer one day."

Ashley Mendoza, a senior at University Heights High School, said she was most surprised to see a building's price was based on calculating rents by the square foot.

"I'm definitely going to try to became an owner of some type of property after this program because I see how much money flow there is in the business," said Mendoza, who is considering becoming a physician assistant and possibly owning a clinic. "Now I see that you just have to go out there and just do it; take the classes in college. And anyone can do it; it's not rocket science."

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