Transformative $11M gift will elevate real estate program to 'pinnacle of the field'

Lisa and Richard Baker
Paul Porter/
Lisa and Richard Baker '88.

Cornell's Program in Real Estate has received an $11 million gift from Lisa and Richard Baker '88 that will more than triple the program's current $5 million endowment.

The Board of Trustees approved the program's renaming to the Baker Program in Real Estate April 12. In addition, the Baker Program is being restructured and will be governed by the two schools most directly aligned with teaching, research and professional careers in the field of real estate -- the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) and the School of Hotel Administration (SHA).

Since its founding (Robert Abrams '53 and Howard Milstein '73 founded the original Program in Real Estate, which graduated its first class in 1998, and Abrams served as its first director), the program has reported to the provost's office rather than a particular school or college. The two-year professional program offers a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree and a dual MPS/MBA degree.

"It's already an excellent program, one of the top real estate professional programs in the country," said John Siliciano, senior vice provost of academic affairs. The new funding "allows it to move even further."

"We thought that a commitment like this would bring greater focus, both at and outside of Cornell, on the opportunity to learn about real estate at Cornell," said Richard Baker, a member of the advisory boards of both the School of Hotel Administration and the Program in Real Estate. "I think this is going to help elevate Cornell's program to be one of the premier real estate programs in the United States."

"Two colleges have joined forces to host a unique program that builds on AAP's renowned expertise in shaping our constructed environment and SHA's deep strength in real estate finance," said Kent Kleinman, AAP's dean. "Lisa and Richard Baker have made a transformative gift that will catapult real estate studies at Cornell to the very pinnacle of the field. The restructuring combined with the gift opens entirely new horizons for the program."

The new structure will become effective on July 1 and will have physical space in both schools, which will collaborate to offer a comprehensive set of ancillary and career services.

Having the real estate program in both colleges "gives the students studying and learning about real estate the opportunity to take advantage of all the dynamic real estate exposure and opportunities that exist at the School of Hotel Administration and the natural relationship that occurs between real estate, urban design and architecture," Baker said.

SHA offered Cornell's first real estate courses. Thanks to the Bakers, "we are now able to build upon SHA's historical expertise in real estate finance and asset management," said Michael Johnson, dean of SHA.

"We hope this gives more students the opportunity to have a career in the real estate industry," said Lisa Baker, noting that learning about the industry is difficult for those not already in a family business, such as the Baker family. "We do everything as a team, and we're really happy to be doing this," she said.

The Bakers' total gift is $12 million, including $1 million for the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Richard and Lisa Baker are owners of the Hudson's Bay Company, which is the oldest continuously operated retail company in the world. Hudson's Bay Company operates Lord & Taylor, The Bay, Home Outfitters and Top Shop Canada. The Bakers also are active contemporary art collectors and producers.

Gary E. Frank is a writer in University Communications.

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