Cal-Stanford Challenge – the Golden Shovel goes to Cal

April 25 witnessed the 30th anniversary of the Cal-Stanford Challenge between teams of graduate students from Stanford University and UC Berkeley, competing for the James W. Brecht Memorial Golden Shovel. The Challenge is an intense, 60-day, hands-on experience in real estate development, established 30 years ago by the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of NAIOP.

Chris Burton, on stage, left, congratulates the Cal Berkeley winning team

The competition is rooted in the commercial real estate industry and focuses on how each team can produce the most innovative and technically compelling proposal for the development of a specific site in the Bay Area. Each year, one Bay Area city puts forward an actual site for the proposed development. This year, San Jose’s Office of Economic Development under the direction of Nanci Klein, the City’s of San Jose Director of Real Estate, offered the Regional Water Facility site in North San Jose.  At the event, Chris Burton, Deputy Director of Economic Development, represented the City and explained the reasons for offering the site for this competition.  This strategically significant site exceeding 160 acres is located between the rapidly developing Aviso area and the economic powerhouse of North San Jose. Chris Burton outlined the City’s brief, emphasizing the key requirement to maximize the employment potential of the industrial site, and ensuring the most sympathetic impact on the environment.

The student teams worked for two gruelling months to prepare for the competition day,  facing a panel of judges with high profile visual presentations followed by open Q&A.

On April 25, more than 400 people attended the judging event, from across the real estate industry with active participation from the audience.  Many of the attendees are themselves alumni of past Golden Shovel competitions, now senior partners and investors from throughout the California commercial real estate and development industry.

The Stanford proposal entitled ‘Urban Roots @ 237’ was rooted in the newly expanding Ag/Tech sector that includes agriculture and last mile food delivery. The centerpiece of the proposed project is a vertical farm. The 10-year master plan would create 2.9 million square feet of new industrial and manufacturing space with open parkland and the potential for 8,300 new jobs.


Berkeley’s proposal,  ‘Zanker Yards’  – referring to a major nearby road –  was anchored by a 6 million square-foot commercial development described as the “next great hub of economic production.”  The project included new industrial and office space,  two hotels and a park to be constructed over three phases, estimated to create more than 14,400 jobs.

The judging panel commented on how close the decision was, but ultimately the Berkeley team was declared the winner. The ambition, documentation and presentation gave Berkeley the edge and they celebrated to raucous applause as they took ownership of the Golden Shovel trophy for the next 12 months.