Ben Angelo: Creating Vibrant Communities in the Student Housing Sector

5/23/2018

​Our development team is nimble and strategic, always anticipating market trends and engaging in opportunities that fit our portfolio and bring value to clients and business partners. Given our deep expertise in multifamily housing, the growing student housing sector has been a natural progression in recent years, and that's why we welcomed Ben Angelo to our team two years ago.

As senior director of real estate development, Ben leads our dedicated, nationwide student housing platform. A perfect fit for the role, Ben came to Opus with strong experience in mixed-use student and multifamily housing, as well as a background in construction and engineering. 

Starting from the Beginning

“Even when I was very young, I was attracted to building things," said Ben. “When it was time to enroll for college, I liked the idea of a more hands-on technical program, so I started the construction engineering program at Purdue University. That morphed into achieving a degree in construction management from Purdue." 


After graduating and spending a few years in the construction industry, Ben became interested in what happens before construction starts—the real estate side of the business. So, he went back to school for a master's of business administration in real estate finance and investment from DePaul University. At the same time, he landed a position with a real estate development company and got his start working on urban infill, mixed-use multifamily developments. 

Prior to joining Opus, Ben spent four years at a start-up, national development and asset management company specializing in private student housing. Ben played a key role in building their student housing development program from the ground up, gaining valuable experience that ultimately led him to Opus.

“I made the move to Opus because it was a unique opportunity in a very well-established and respected firm," said Ben. “I was hired to establish and manage our national student housing platform, so it was almost like creating a start-up company within a company, but with resources and support already in place." 

Customer-Centric Development & End-User Focus

In addition to his real estate experience, Ben possesses a customer-centric attitude that aligns with how we deliver projects.  


“Our goal is to develop high-quality properties that are desirable to our residents," said Ben. “Almost everything we do during development is focused on the end-user, which in my case are students. We aren't just building apartments for students to sleep and study in; we are creating vibrant communities within university or college communities." 

Ben employs a programmatic approach to developing properties that attract students in a segment that has evolved considerably in recent years. 

“Prior to Opus, when I first entered the student housing space in 2012, we were just throwing every amenity under the sun at student projects, hoping they would stick," said Ben. “What I've done since then is research and evaluate what types of amenities are the most valuable to the students, with the goal of maximizing the use of space." 

Ben has found that students' desires vary market to market. In addition to academic considerations, students choose certain schools to experience the unique qualities of the local area. So the amenities we incorporate into our projects are customized. 

Non-Standardized Approach = Unique Location-Driven Amenities

“There's nothing cookie-cutter about what we are doing," said Ben. “We spend a lot of time determining who our target student audience is and what type of property and amenities will be the most appealing to them" 


One example is outdoor spaces. In warm-weather climates like Arizona and California, students want to spend more time outdoors during the school year. In those markets, Ben and his team give more consideration to creating outdoor lifestyles, while in northern regions like the Midwest, indoor spaces are fully maximized.  

For example, in our luxury high-rise student housing tower at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—a Big Ten school where basketball is a significant part of the culture—we included an indoor basketball court. In that market and for those students, an indoor court is a good and appealing use of square footage.

In most markets, this generation of students gravitates toward coffee shop environments where they can study and collaborate with others in a community space. We often dedicate a good amount of community space in the designs. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there are multiple indoor lounges and numerous spaces catering to that desire, including a club room with TVs for game-day watching, pool tables and ping-pong tables that opens to an outdoor amenity space with a pool, fire pits and grilling stations. 

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the opportunity to learn about the different student cultures in various geographic and academic markets and cater to them," said Ben. “Our focus is national for student housing, so I have no geographic boundaries. For each project, there are new rules of engagement for development. I enjoy the variety and making every one of them a successful property."