The Power is Now

Why this local developer joined the #1 Real Estate Development program in the US – Bham Now


Neal NeSmith in front of the Oak View Animal Hospital, a development he worked on. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

For the past 13 years, Neal NeSmith has been working with some of the biggest names in real estate development in Birmingham. However, it was just last year that he joined Auburn University’s Master of Real Estate Development program—which was recently ranked #1 in the country. We spoke with Neal to learn more about his background and why he chose to go back to school as a working, full-time professional.

Meet Neal NeSmith

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Originally from Oneonta, Neal completed his undergraduate degree in Economics and Business Administration at Birmingham-Southern College in 2009. Although he graduated in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis, Neal was able to find a job in a field he had always loved: Commercial Real Estate.

“Business was lean for a couple of years, but it gave me the opportunity to learn from the best, since people weren’t as busy as they had been. During that time, I was able to take the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) curriculum and focus on building up my portfolio.”

Neal NeSmith

In 2012, Neal landed a new role working for Bayer Properties as the Assistant General Manager for The Summit Shopping Center. While working at The Summit, Neal was responsible for managing the entire one-million-square-foot shopping center and increased specialty leasing.

“Working at The Summit gave me the chance to expand my skill set with asset and property management. For about four years, I got to work with some of the best real estate development minds in Birmingham, which created a well-rounded experience for me.”

Neal NeSmith

Developing Oak View Animal Hospital

The Oak View Animal Hospital campus in Hoover. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

In 2019, Neal accepted a role with Southern Veterinary Partners, a Birmingham-based network of animal hospitals throughout the country. As a Real Estate Development Lead—and later a Senior Director of Real Estate Development—Neal is instrumental in supporting the company’s real estate endeavors, including renovations, expansions, relocations and ground-up hospital construction.

Recently, Neal’s team completed the state-of-the-art Oak View Animal Hospital in Hoover.

“The CEO of Southern Veterinary Partners had worked as a veterinarian for a number of years, and Oak View Animal Hospital was his original hospital. When the hospital was nearing the end of its lease in its original location, they determined that space wasn’t representative of the quality of care they provided. That presented us with an opportunity to find a new home for Oak View Animal Hospital.”

Neal NeSmith

Shortly thereafter, the Southern Veterinary Partners team located some land near Highway 31 in Riverchase. They then partnered with a local contractor to develop the new 5,600 square-foot Oak View Animal Hospital.

“On the Oak View Animal Hospital project, I was partnered with the hospital, construction and architecture teams to get the building designed, built and opened. The new Oak View Animal Hospital helps exude the quality of care that the hospital provides in a modern facility.”

Neal NeSmith

Joining the #1 Master of Real Estate Development program in the country

Auburn MRED
Neal with members of his MRED cohort during a recent Field Study in New York City. (Auburn University Master of Real Estate Development)

In 2021, Neal joined the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at Auburn University. Offered jointly through the Harbert College of Business and the College of Architecture, Design, and Construction, the MRED Program was ranked as the #1 Best Master’s in Real Estate Degree Program of 2022.

“My experience in real estate has been mostly self-taught and experiential, and I’ve learned skills in negotiation, project management, design and more by partnering with mentors and asking questions. However, at a certain point in my career I realized that I was missing something in the development of my skill set, professionally.”

Neal NeSmith

As a working professional—not to mention a father to two young children—Neal couldn’t take off several years to complete his degree. However, the MRED program is catered towards working professionals.

“I was looking for something that offered a hybrid approach, where I could interact with my cohort in the field while continuing my full-time employment. My cohort of 26 is very close and brings experience from a variety of field; we have professionals who are affordable housing developers, single-family home builders, high-powered attorneys and many more. To me, that’s one of the greatest values of this program—those different perspectives and viewpoints that can help challenge the way you approach a problem.”

Neal NeSmith

The MRED program includes four Field Studies—three domestic and one international. During these Field Studies, the cohort travels to different cities to focus on aspects of design that they don’t have access to in their home city.

“So far, we’ve visited Philadelphia, Seattle and—just recently—New York City. In New York, we had the opportunity to tour the World Trade Center redevelopment with the chief of major capital projects who has been working on that project for the last 20 years. In 2023, our cohort will go to London for about 10 days to experience design and development on a level that is not seen here in the Southeast, so I’m really looking forward to that experience.”

Neal NeSmith

Want to learn more about real estate development?

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Curious about pursuing a career in real estate development? Auburn’s MRED program may be the right choice for you.

“To my knowledge, there is no comparable program anywhere in the country. Auburn has hired the best professors, and the value that they bring through the curriculum is invaluable. The members of my cohort are lifelong friends and potentially future business partners, and the field studies are opportunities to see things abroad that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Auburn’s MRED program is truly an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.”

Neal NeSmith

Have questions about Auburn’s MRED program? Reach out to the program’s staff with any questions.

Click here to learn more about Auburn’s Master of Real Estate Development program and check out the Harbert College of Business on FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube and LinkedIn

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