How One Company is Revolutionizing Student Housing in the U.S.

Let’s face it: when you think of student housing, you typically don’t think of chic design and funky amenities. Or at least you didn’t used to. But thanks to companies like Core Spaces, student housing is pivoting into an exciting new era; one where collegiate markets are filling out with unique, thoughtfully designed real estate that looks more like a destination resort than a dorm, and one that’s truly raising the bar on what student housing can be.

Core Spaces is a Chicago-based real estate company that acquires, develops and manages real estate for people in college markets. A game-changer for the industry, the company has been establishing individualistic properties across the U.S. since 2010, employing meticulous design by Karen Herold of Studio K, expansive views and impressive apartment furnishings. Since christening its first property in 2013, Core Spaces has opened the doors to projects, otherwise called “hubs,” in Tempe, Arizona; Oxford, Mississippi; Columbia, South Carolina; Tucson, Arizona; Madison, Wisconsin; Eugene, Oregon; Fort Collins, Colorado; Morganstown, West Virginia; and Rock Point, Alabama. With a whopping 5,781 beds already done, and several more projects in the pipeline, the envelope-pushing company shows no signs of slowing. We spoke with managing partner Marc Lifshin to get the scoop on where the company came from and what makes Core Spaces tick.

Money Inc: Where did the idea for Core Spaces come from?

Marc Lifshin: We noticed a massive void in the educational sector. When you think of student housing in 2010, a majority of the housing was miles off campus. You’d have smaller places, but purpose-built housing was still miles away. So we saw a massive void and we thought we could deliver something really cool. How do we then deploy that urban planning mindset? We developed a project with that in mind that was wildly successful and we thought we could develop that model year over year.

Money Inc: Where was your first project?

Marc Lifshin: My first project was a 24-story high rise at the University of Illinois in 2006. Over the years, when we started Core in 2010, our goal was to take a step back and think how do we build a better mouse trap. Year over year, we’re always trying to be progressive with developing that model and taking it to the next step.

Money Inc: How do you go about conceptualizing student housing that’s unique and progressive?

Marc Lifshin: You’re not designing for today’s college students, you’re developing for today’s high school students. You’re thinking of things that the generation before didn’t. As a company, we have to stay current. We have to make sure that we still relate to the students. We’re hiring young people and bridging that age gap. It’s also a massive amount of research. If we were keeping the model that we first developed, we’d be obsolete today. We had a cool product and we bet on the people. Our team is amazing, they spend a massive amount of time meeting with professors, students and focus groups to determine what will be successful with today and tomorrow’s market.

Money Inc: How do you select your markets?

Marc Lifshin: We develop, finance and manage our own projects, spread regionally. It’s a de-centralized approach with managing. Each property runs itself with leasing agents, managers, general managers and so forth. You don’t have to just regionally focus how you develop different markets. We take a step back and look at all the metrics of enrollment, growth, tuition costs, endowments, international students, and you start numbering these metrics in different weights and target the top 10-20 universities you want to go after. It allows us to spread our wings, without worrying about the location of the campus.

Money Inc: What philosophies or goals do you apply in terms of design, aesthetic and amenities?

Marc Lifshin: When you walk into a property, we want it to feel like a hub property; that feeling of uniqueness when you enter the doors. Each property is totally different. In the research we do, a lot of it doesn’t just go to amenities, but what style of the university and what will be appropriate here. You want to fit in, but be appropriate and unique. Every development is totally different and we obsess over every detail that’s coordinated.

Money Inc: What are your goals and plans for the future?

Marc Lifshin: We’re working on 20 different developments between now and 2020. They’re all over the country, from the east and west coast. Next August, we deliver Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, West Lafayette, Flagstaff, Tuscaloosa and Orlando.

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