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New Board Member Profile: Elzie Higginbottom, CEO and Founder, East Lake Management & Development Corp.

By Lee Gottschalk

August 29, 2022

We are proud to welcome Elzie Higginbottom, CEO and Founder, East Lake Management & Development Corp. to our Board of Advisors. His industry insight and experience will be a valuable addition to the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate as we work to maintain our position as the global leaders in real estate education. Read below to learn more about Elzie.

Describe your current position and what an average work day is like for you?

I’m the CEO and Founder of East Lake Management & Development Corp., which has both property management and development departments. In addition to East Lake, I have a leadership stake in a construction company as well as an aviation business. I’m also serving on a few non-profit boards including After School Matters and the UW Foundation. – Like any entrepreneur, the content of my day varies widely depending on where the need is. My day can range from visiting a construction site, to long term strategic planning, to financial analysis for a new development deal, to advising and managing my executive team.

In your view, what is the biggest opportunity in commercial real estate today?

My practice has always been to identify opportunity just beyond the path of growth. I have been successful in identifying potential in the neighborhoods that other people don’t work in. I recommend that developers continue to identify opportunities to bring commercial development to the neighborhoods and areas in need of expansion or revitalization.

What does the world need from real estate professionals today?

The world needs people who understand that real estate serves a vital role in the ecosystem of a community. Real estate professionals need to make a responsible investment into creating vibrant neighborhoods. Commercial and residential development stimulates growth in communities and has significant economic and social impact. While profit is essential, real estate can’t solely be about the bottom line. Every project has a place in the larger community and every real estate professional should be a responsible participant.

What are the Industry’s most profound changes over the last 15 years? Looking to the future, how do you think the industry will change in the next 15 years?

In comparison to where the industry was 15 years ago, technology has a much larger role today. Technology now plays an important role in how both consumers and industry professionals approach the market. The way we now interact with financial partners, tenants, lenders, architects, and consultants makes it a challenge to find ways balance utilization of technological advances while maintaining a personal touch. 2 When I first started in the industry it was more relational, it was about building and cultivating long term relationships. I imagine with the continued evolution of technology, our ability to adjust and adapt our communication and interpersonal skills will have to continue to evolve as well. Over the next fifteen years, I imagine we will continue to see the development of the city centers, in many locations. Projects like Fulton Market and the IMD developments that bring work, home and entertainment together are likely the direction of development for the foreseeable future. This is why it’s important to ensure that the benefits of increased urban population extend out to the neighborhoods.

What do you enjoy most about being in the real estate profession?

I have always loved building things and understanding the process of how an idea can begin in the mind, or on paper, and eventually manifest into something tangible. I have enjoyed spotting a site or a building and seeing its potential for value. I love to watch all the elements of a new development come together to create a physical structure that has financial value.

What’s the most interesting or fulfilling project you’ve worked on?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one project, but it was very fulfilling to develop 200 North Dearborn, a mixed use 315 unit residential tower in the Loop. I appreciated many different facets of that project: I developed it with a great team of partners and mentors, I was the first black developer to build a high rise in the loop, there were an infinite number of moving parts, we retained ownership through several financial challenges, and it’s still a premiere property downtown. That project was considered to a trophy building, but there are also numerous projects in neighborhoods like Bronzeville that I sincerely cherish for the impact that the work has had in transforming and revitalizing the community.

What advice would you give to our students who are about to embark on a career in real estate?

My advice would be, no matter how readily available technology is, it’s important to understand all aspects of development: the economics, the market, the planning process, finance, and building construction. By that I mean you need to go out and visit your sites, meet your lenders, visit other properties to understand the market. You have to familiarize 3 yourself with all aspects of building development and its relationship to the community. You cannot lose sight of the real estate essentials (the bricks and mortar) behind the lens of financial modeling.