Dirks names UC Berkeley alumnus Robert Lalanne first-ever vice chancellor for real estate

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Robert Lalanne was named UC Berkeley’s first vice chancellor for real estate by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks on Tuesday.

In this role, Lalanne, a UC Berkeley alumnus and founder of the Bay Area real estate development company The Lalanne Group, will oversee campus real estate projects — unifying operations currently overseen by several different vice chancellors — as well as the planning, building and operations of campus facilities. Lalanne is expected to begin in this position in mid-January.

“We’re lucky to find someone who is aware of all the issues, knows all the people and brings an immense amount of experience to the table,” said Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance John Wilton. “It’s an immense solution to the problem we face.”

Lalanne, who graduated in 1978 from the College of Environmental Design and is a member of the Berkeley Foundation Board of Trustees, will oversee more than 500 employees as part of the Facilities Services unit, which is currently run by Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Ed Denton, who intends to retire in January. Although the amount of his salary has not been announced, Lalanne plans to donate the money back to the campus, according to a campus press release. In 2012, Denton made $220,500 in his position, according to the UC Office of the President’s website.

When Denton was hired in 1998, the campus’s clear priority was addressing seismic safety, Wilton said. Now, with about 75 percent of campus buildings retrofitted, Lalanne faces different tasks, including integrating the management of campus property, facilitating developments such as the Richmond Bay Campus and working with city leaders to resuscitate areas such as Telegraph Avenue.

“I’ve met now with several of the people along Telegraph Avenue that have some connection to Berkeley,” Wilton said. “That’s an area where working with Bob will change the nature of the dialogue. Bob has those sorts of connections.”

Citing his career of more than 25 years in the real estate business, Lalanne said he works well with community groups, such as those in San Francisco, to garner support for projects. Through examining the city of Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, working with local landlords and collaborating with campus professors of real estate, Lalanne looks forward to the “exciting possibilities” for property development in Berkeley.

Still, Lalanne will have to work with the campus’s current funding model, which has shifted greatly over the last decade, Wilton said.

In lieu of using state capital, some projects — such as the parking lot development at Maxwell Family Field near Memorial Stadium set to commence in January — may be financed by third-party developers who come in to handle their design, construction and operation. With state funding at UC Berkeley “dramatically” diminished, Lalanne said he sees this kind of development as an opportunity for the campus to make money with the real estate it has.

“The thought is we should be saving campus capital for students, faculty, labs and classrooms,” he said.

Lalanne chairs the University Real Estate Development Council at the Urban Land Institute, where he meets twice a week with 40 to 50 vice chancellors from around the country to share the best practices for real estate on and off campus. Lalanne said the development of innovation research parks — like the Richmond Bay Campus development, stalled following the federal sequester — is a “No. 1” topic among the universities.

“Several of us are excited about the fact that when you look at the I-school, Engineering School, CITRIS … there are unintended collisions where you’re bringing several disciplines together, and these incredible new things have been created,” Lalanne said. “Richmond Bay could become — and I think the goal here is — one of the 21st century’s big innovative research parks in the country.”

Megan Messerly is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @meganmesserly.