University of Toronto’s (U of T) Rotman School of Management just got even more attractive to the next generation of talent, thanks to a generous gift for game-changing real estate programming.

Today, Toronto’s world-class university announced the receipt of a $15M gift from real estate leader David Feldman, and his wife Angela, to establish the David Feldman Centre for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the Rotman School of Management.

Of course, as Founder, President, and CEO of Camrost Felcorp Inc., Feldman is a familiar figure on Canada’s real estate scene. Under his leadership, Camrost Felcorp has developed and built over 80 buildings, delivered over 20,000 residences, and has constructed more than 2 million sq. ft of office and retail space, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area. Now, the award-winning developer wants to ensure the next generation of Toronto leaders is ready to continue bringing the rapidly developing city (and beyond) into the future – one where real estate remains as important as ever.

The David Feldman Centre will essentially embed and strengthen real estate teaching within the MBA and Rotman Commerce programs at the Rotman School. It will combine U of T’s strengths in real estate, urban economics, and other adjacent fields to deliver executive training, workshops, and public events that prepare students to be exceptional leaders within the industry. Through this, the program will be designed for students to gain complementary skills in finance, negotiation, team-building, leadership, valuation, investment, sustainability, and public and private financing. With its cutting-edge research (it'll only hire the best of the best), it will equip students with the skills needed to become dynamic real estate professionals who can advise on the complex decisions needed to build, finance, and manage capital-intensive real estate projects in cities like Toronto.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

“If you look at any newspaper, and issues around housing, and how we’re conceptualizing different real estate and the pressures there — [it] has made this really topical right now as something we should be pursuing,” says Susan Christoffersen, Dean of the Rotman School of Management. “Real estate has also always been the number one asset in the world – it’s a huge asset. When you think of it in terms of what it provides individuals as a store of wealth – the home is often the most valuable asset most people own. I think the importance of that market is really critical for our students to understand. This is an amazing opportunity for us to help build the leaders of tomorrow in an important industry and asset class, within Canada and the world.”

David Feldman Image: Camrost Felcorp

The David Feldman Centre will tackle urgent and ever-relevant questions that span the connected fields of urban economics and real estate — topics like the economics of cities, real estate development, and house price dynamics. The centre’s research will also help inform how we address pressing economic, environmental, and social issues facing our cities, to ensure that students have the academic grounding needed to succeed in the real estate industry — and take on challenges like the housing crisis.

“Real estate is an important field, and one that’s rapidly changing,” says William Strange, Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School. “On my side, I see many, possibly most, of the important economic and business issues that Canada faces as real estate issues – or, at least, real estate-adjacent. Our goal at the centre is to educate people to make better choices and better inform the decisions they made. So, it will address things like affordable housing, what’s going on with downtown core’s commercial real estate with the work-from-home culture, debt, gentrification and equality, and the country’s productivity — which is considerably lower than the US — and the environment and climate change.”

Recognizing the importance of real estate in a range of disciplines, the main goal is to elevate real estate teaching across the school’s executive programs, graduate programs, and undergrad programs.

“I hope this activity within Rotman will help people who are going in the business school for other programs too,” says Strange. “I don’t think Rotman is alone in, historically, not putting a lot of real estate in the required parts of curriculum. The required parts are pretty busy, but – like most business schools – we teach finance, but we don’t teach the housing market even though it’s the biggest asset market in Canada. We don’t teach commercial real estate, even though that’s almost as big as equities and a lot bigger than bonds. We remain in a world where an understanding of real estate seems valuable and prudent.”

The centre will also attract others who aren’t pursuing degrees, but looking to hone their skillsets. “Some students will want degree programs, but – the way that the world is working – others may want more micro credentials, which is not necessarily a two-year or a four-year degree,” says Christoffersen. “Something that came through from David, which I thought was very visionary, is that doing well in the real estate business isn’t just about knowing about real estate: it’s financing, it’s management, it’s strategy, it’s negotiations. We’re able to provide this wide skill set both in the degree and executive programs.”

While Toronto is undeniably the hub of economic activity within Canada, making it an obvious choice for such a centre, it’s also full of development and developers. As Christoffersen highlights, it’s a city where the pressures of immigration and urbanization pose a major challenge in terms of accommodating a wide variety of people.

“I think one of the best things about the University of Toronto and Rotman is the incredible academic leadership that’s here; we’re leaders in the country,” says Christoffersen. “One of the benefits of the University is access to experts in diverse areas. The ability to tap into experts in different domains that are related is really beneficial, both from a teaching perspective, but also a research perspective. Toronto is also a big place, and it’s easy to attract industry to quickly unite thought leaders to discuss issues that are on peoples' minds.”

The new program will be housed within existing Rotman School facilities, with the financial gift allocated to training efforts and staffing and sparking innovative co-curricular offerings that leverage U of T’s vast array of related disciplines. As for timelines, Christoffersen is working on curricular changes behind the scenes, with the hope of introducing some of them in the next year, then building on them.

“The Feldman family are exceptional contributors to our community and this will make a big difference in the real estate world in terms of developing top talent,” says Christoffersen.

Strange echoes the sentiment. “We’re incredibly grateful for David Feldman and his family – this absolutely is transformational for us,” says Strange. “We take very seriously the responsibility on our end to achieve the goals we are aiming for, which are to educate people, do great research, and speak to external stakeholders.”

As for David Feldman himself, he acknowledges that there’s no quick fix to our real estate issues. But the centre is a step in the right direction.

“It’s important to recognize that the issues around housing, offices, and real estate in general won’t be solved overnight,” says Feldman. “The challenges are often generational in nature. That’s why our family supported the decision to make a purposeful contribution to the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. With its multidisciplinary resources, Rotman will provide a solid foundation for the establishment of the David Feldman Centre. Our family has high expectations for the growth and success of the centre, and we believe that its graduates will possess the skills to lead and implement thoughtful solutions that meet the housing and community needs for today and for future generations.”