Here at the Learning X Living blog, we want to inform our readers, stakeholders and partners in ways that add value to their professional lives. In addition to discussing current leadership issues, the higher education landscape and student housing, we also want to highlight the leaders who influence this dynamic eco-system.
Where better to start than with an LXL-style Q&A with Patrick Miksa, Campus Assets’ President. Patrick leads the Campus Assets Development group within Alignvest. The objective of this vertical is to source and develop projects within the academic asset class. The projects can be singular in use or of a mixed-use dynamic. The asset class has evolved into educentric spaces that assist in learning success. The uses now encompass: housing for students, parking, academic space, programing space, administration space, district energy and other ancillary uses. He has been a thought leader and considered a pioneer within the Canadian academic asset sector.
Patrick has taken part in numerous academic roundtables and was appointed to a committee tasked within the TCDSB to draft a Student and Parent Bill of Rights. He is also a member of such relevant organizations such as ACUHO-I, and CAUBO. He is an appointed member of the University Development and Innovation Council for the Urban Land Institute.
Prior to creating Campus Assets, Patrick held the position of Vice-President of Academic Assets at a Canadian firm within the academic asset landscape. He led and created the academic asset platform during his tenure which will hold a market value in excess of $1.3 Billion.
Patrick’s real estate career has included a variety of senior leadership roles within the industry representing national and global stake holders. Prior to focusing on the academic asset class, Patrick was Director of Real Estate for a global retailer with annual sales over $1 billion, over 400 locations in Canada, and throughout the United States. He has also held senior real estate positions within National Bank of Canada where he was responsible for the corporate real estate portfolio of National Bank, National Bank Financial and Altamira, whereby he oversaw assets/ properties within Ontario, Western Canada, the United States and international marketplaces.
JB: Why did you get into real estate and development as a career path and what drew you specifically to student housing?
PM: It was really an evolution. As happens often in life, there was some familiarity with it through family and friends. My father was a plumber and serviced the development community. I started off going down what some may say is a ‘normal’ business path and starting my career with a financial institution taking care of their real estate. Every day was different. I dealt with different people. I dealt with different situations and that’s something I embraced. I was told always to try and do something you love rather than something that you need and real estate development ticked most of the boxes but then I came across the academic asset class and this ticks all the boxes. Student housing wasn’t really an asset class in the Canadian marketplace when I started. We knew there was a need in the market, knew that it wasn’t being addressed and with the real estate background there was just a connection. Although it can take considerable time, with Campus Assets, we see the results of our success with students attaining their goals and being successful in our environments.
JB: What does the market look like in the present state for student housing and private development?
PM: That is a great question and one that causes reflection almost on an annual basis. We definitely see a watershed moment happening. Within the Canadian context, higher Education has significant challenges including deferred maintenance, limited resources, and financial constraints. As Canadians, I do not think we brag enough about our educational offerings that we can provide not only domestically but globally. Stand on the highest mount and express what we have. But, such an undertaking in execution requires collaborative interaction. Private development partners can assist institutions with their goals. Although we do not target a direct competitive relationship with higher-education institutions, there are some organizations that do. That is ok, but the most successful long-term projects have to be ones where there is mutual respect and collaboration between the institution and the developer. There’s a necessity to have all parties at the table at the beginning. It may be as basic as understanding needs in an open, non-committal forum but if the process is too far along it’s difficult to change the direction of the project.
JB: What lights you up about working within the higher education space?
PM: The continual change. Every project is different, every institution is different, needs are different. Each institution requires a different solution. Nothing is cookie cutter. “Diversity” is something that is engrained in every aspect of the development process from initial strategy to execution. Sitting around the Campus Assets table in concert with higher-education institutions is a team which is respectful of each others’ views. When we solve a challenging problem that no other group has been able to address, it is fulfilling on multiple levels. We can see that our successful projects can make a difference in academic success. Within the Canadian marketplace, it is really at its early stages and our expertise can allow higher education institutions to fulfil their core mission of providing excellence. I truly believe in the Canadian education system and what can be offered can be positioned as something that is revered globally. It just will take more of a concerted effort to get there.
JB: Why should higher education institutions partner with the private sector vs developing on their own?
PM: Core competencies and mission statement. If you look at the Mission Statement of any higher-education institution, they invariably talk about providing the best environment for teaching/learning/research in an inclusive, diverse and innovative setting. Partnering with private sector opens up more opportunities to deliver on this. Educational institutions should be striving to provide the best educational experience possible. Regardless of theoretical, experiential, practical or project-based instruction, facilities must be able to accommodate diverse learning and teaching styles. It really comes down to division of labour and resources. Canadian higher-ed institutions are now competing globally. It’s not about only bringing in a high school student from down the street, it’s also about bringing different individuals from around the world. The private sector is typically more adaptive and can execute quicker. Additionally, there is a significant challenge in higher-education from a deferred maintenance aspect. Unfortunately they’re pushing a big boulder up a hill and there will be a time where it starts rolling backwards. This should be addressed pro-actively and the private sector can be great partners. I feel for the administrators at these institutions because when they budget appropriately and start allocating funds for items such as infrastructure repair for ‘X’ improvements, they can start accruing a certain balance and then when other parties see there is a reserve of $2 million, it is then reallocated, and the facility folks are back to square one. To be clear, not all institutions are struggling with deferred maintenance, but I think many would be shocked if they understood how many institutions had significant issues. When you develop with a private sector partner, the partner has the ability to be able to absorb the majority of the risk and the higher-ed institution can then reap the benefits. This also can be structured off balance sheet. The winning beneficiary is the student.
JB: How does Campus Assets integrate values such as inclusion, sustainability and community development into projects?
PM: It’s funny, when the question of inclusion, sustainability and community development are brought in as today’s new buzzwords so to speak as these are values and attributes that we have always brought into our projects. They have always been at our core. Firstly, the nature of the clients (students) we serve, demand it. But not in a forthright way. These groups that we build for are diverse, they’re inclusive, they strive for excellence, they care about the environment, they care about each other, and they care who and what they’re associated with. So, this drives us. Secondly, when Campus Assets was created, it was really about walking the walk and doing what we say not just merely regurgitating catchphrases. So, if you look at our organizational make up and our team members, we are diverse, we are inclusive, and we are always striving to provide the best-in-class development. Lastly, because we are long term holders/partners, we want to ensure that the community is wholesome and can evolve as trends evolve.
JB: If you had to project 10 years out, what innovations would we see that are hard to comprehend right now?
PM: There is so much potential in that question. I think within the realm of relationships, higher-education and government will be more receptive to creating solutions with private sector parties. This will be a function of necessity and successful examples from other countries.
I would say that the construction industry and real estate development as a whole has been slow to bring forward significant innovation. In the last 10 years there really has been acceleration. There are two things to really look at when talking about innovation in academic assets and purpose-built housing for students. There’s the actual physical structure which talks about materiality, engineering and construction typology and also the interior and programming of the space. Dealing with the second component first, I think that there is going to be even greater focus on adaptive spaces which can be multipurpose and multi-functional to be able to suit various needs. But there’s also going to be a real intersection with technology and ways to assist in mental well-being, mental health and ensuring that the interaction in these developments between the tenants can assist in their lives and growth.
Dealing with the physical construction and materiality, I think that there is going to be some significant improvements in sustainability and material make up that will be synthetic in nature and also focus on carbon neutrality. We have seen some significant steps in that regard, and it is moving away from a certificate on the wall or a stamp to actual practical measurable differences that can be seen from a maintenance and a livability standpoint.
Connect with Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org