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Last week the Baker Program hosted one of the most inspiring presentations of the year as it welcomed Ken Himmel ‘70, CEO of Related Urban. Himmel, who is an accomplished Hotel School alum, spoke to students about the importance of placemaking and curating unique experiences through real estate.
Himmel took students thru his career at Related that began one memorable afternoon with a phone call from Related Chairman, Stephen Ross. In that call, Ross asked Himmel to fly from his home in Boston and have dinner with him in New York that very evening. Ross told Himmel that once he listened to what he had to tell him, he might not want to go back.
During that dinner, the two began to conceive the initial plans of what would eventually become the Time Warner Center. At the time, New York’s West Side was void of any significant activity and the site of the former New York Coliseum. When Ross and Himmel sat down to formulate their plan for the site, they were already late to the party. Eight other notable development firms had already come up with plans for the site.
After that initial dinner, the two convened a team that worked for six straight weeks to develop the programming concept that would eventually lead them to landing the project. One notable aspect of their proposal was securing Time Warner as their anchor tenant, who at the time was leasing space in Rockefeller Center that provided no cache for the media giant. Through a mutual friend, they were able to schedule a 45-minute meeting with Time Warner CEO, Richard “Dick” Parson. By providing a unique programming concept, an hour and 45 mins later, Parsons agreed to sign on to the project, although he had already been pitched to by the other eight developers who were competing for the site. A week later, the Related team had an official commitment letter from Time Warner Corporation.
Himmel used this story to underscore his “hospitality programing” approach towards development. Throughout his talk he emphasized the importance of great programming and creating a vibrant sense of place. By creating well curated environments for people to work, live, play and shop, Related has the ability to solicit top tier tenants.
Himmel told students about how learning hospitality at Cornell’s Hotel School gave him the perspective he has taken throughout his real estate career. He walked students through other Related projects that emphasized the “hospitality programming” philosophy that he applies to all of his projects; like CityPlace in West Palm Beach, The Galleria on Abu Dhabi’s Maryah Island and The Grand in Downtown Los Angeles. He also took students through Related’s current flagship project Hudson Yards, the largest real estate development in US history.
Being a loyal “hotelie”, Himmel spent his time engaging with not just Baker students. After his DSS speech to the Baker students, he was off to have dinner with other students from the Hotel School. The next morning, he held an intimate session with less than a dozen students from the Baker Program and the Johnson MBA program, where he went in more depth about some of the specific programming examples that gives Related its unique approach towards development. Immediately following this session, he made time to speak in private to the undergraduate real estate club. Later that afternoon he gave a speech, open to all, in the Statler Auditorium.
Ken Himmel’s approach towards development provided a refreshing perspective. Throughout his entire visit to campus he emphasized the important role that design, and creativity have in development. He also noted how critical it is to spend the right amount of time and resources to develop the right programming for a project. It is that philosophy that has allowed him to attain so much success throughout his career.
The students and faculty of the Baker Program in Real Estate thank Mr. Himmel for coming back to Cornell and sharing his wealth of experience.