Mason Ailstock, President and CEO, Rowen Foundation recently joined executives from University of Toronto Scarborough, Greystar and Urban Strategies at SHURE GTA (Toronto).

University-Anchored Knowledge Communities: Real estate as a living laboratory for campus innovation and growth

December 6, 2023

SHURE Initiative

My name is Mason Ailstock, and I am honored to serve as the President and CEO of the Rowen Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in metro Atlanta. Having recently visited Toronto and spoken at SHURE Initiative GTA & Eastern Canada, I wanted to share some insights and reflections on the transformative power of intentional real estate development in fostering innovation and collaboration within knowledge communities.

Mason Ailstock is President and CEO of Rowen Foundation

Over the past two decades, I have dedicated my career to working in knowledge communities closely tied to anchor institutions. Our foundation, Rowen, collaborates with five esteemed higher education institutions—Emory University, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Georgia Gwinnett College, and Spelman College—to leverage real estate to advance research, attract students and faculty, and drive economic development.

One key theme that emerged during our recent discussion at SHURE GTA & Eastern Canada was the strategic importance of partnerships. We believe in bringing together diverse stakeholders, including industry partners, universities, and private sector investors, to create vibrant ecosystems that attract top talent and contribute significantly to the region's economic growth. The intentional collaboration fosters an environment where knowledge and innovation flourish.

A crucial aspect of our conversation is the significance of programmatic-driven projects. We firmly believe that successful university-anchored initiatives should prioritize the institution's mission and vision over mere real estate considerations. The real estate should serve as a platform to fulfill these objectives, contributing to the institution's long-term goals and creating lasting value for the community.

Our foundation is currently engaged in an ambitious project spanning 2,000 acres with development capacity to support over 22 million square feet of office, lab, research, and innovation space alongside amenities such as student housing, retail, hospitality, and multifamily residential. As with many knowledge communities globally, Rowen is a multi-generational project with a development timeline of 30 years. This endeavor poses unique challenges and opportunities in intentionally curating such a vast space, involving various partners to bring the vision to life while ensuring long-term sustainability and value generation.

As we navigate the intricacies of knowledge community development, we recognize the delicate balance between risk, mission, and control in university-anchored projects. Serving as the point of convergence for multiple higher education institutions, Rowen is leading the way to create clarity around diverse assets, priorities of intended outcomes, and consensus on actions that move the collective forward.

Rowen and our Board of Directors wish to express our enthusiasm for the potential and promise of a long-term, bold vision that is inclusive, market-responsive, and actionable as we look to create a thriving knowledge community. We believe that by strategically leveraging the expertise and resources of our partners, we can build sustainable, innovative, and interconnected spaces that benefit both institutions and their surrounding communities. Moreover, we believe such a model is worthy of global replication as other cities and nations consider new place-based economic strategies.

Thank you for providing a platform to share these insights. We look forward to continued discussions on the intersection of education, innovation, and intentional real estate development.

Mason Ailstock is President and CEO of the Atlanta-based Rowen Foundation.

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