Penn State Smeal convenes panel of leading infrastructure experts

June 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Smeal College of Business assembled a group of the country’s leading transportation and infrastructure experts in May in New York City to discuss the most critical infrastructure issues facing the United States.

Moderated by Penn State alumnus David Welsh, founder and partner with Normandy Real Estate Partners, the panel included:

  • Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak.
  • Sarah Feinberg, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board member and former U.S. Department of Transportation chief of staff.
  • Parick Foye, chairman of the MTA.
  • Steve Plate, chief of major capital projects of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Organized by Penn State Smeal’s Institute for Real Estate Studies (IRES), the panel was hosted by Larry Silverstein, chairman of Silverstein Properties and developer of the new World Trade Center in New York City.

“Our country’s transportation infrastructure is the lifeblood of our economy and society,” Silverstein said. “Our experience here at the World Trade Center showed us how important it is for government to work hand in hand with the private sector on large infrastructure projects. We can’t do them alone; we have to work together.”

Many of the panelists agreed and highlighted the need, as well as the opportunity, for private developers to work with the public sector to solve several critical infrastructure issues.

“The public sector is looking to real estate professionals to create successful public-private partnerships that will address our country’s critical capital investment needs” Coscia said.

Many of those real estate professionals serve on the IRES advisory board.

“This event demonstrates the ability of Penn State to bring together leading experts to discuss solutions to topics of vital importance to the real estate industry and society at large,” said Peter Cocoziello, president of Advance Realty and Smeal IRES advisory board chairman emeritus. 

Charles Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal, noted that “Events like this highlight how Penn State alumni and the Smeal College of Business are working to address critical issues facing our world.” 

Worst-case scenarios

To illustrate how serious the need is for infrastructure investments, the panelists discussed several scenarios showing what could happen if public transit was disrupted, even for a day.

New York City’s subway system transports nearly 6 million riders a day. Amtrak’s busiest station, Penn Station in New York, services more than 600,000 commuters a day. The economic impact of a disruption in service would be felt not only by daily commuters and businesses in New York but by communities and businesses from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

While the panelists pointed to the problems associated with decades of inadequate capital spending, they also highlighted the World Trade Center development immediately behind them as a prime example of how public-private partnerships can successfully solve critical problems.

World Trade Center

After 9/11, there was a great debate over what should be built at the World Trade Center.  It was quintessential New York: passionate, loud and fractious; but one thing was clear — the new World Trade Center needed to be much more than what it had been before.

Throughout the process, everyone involved was mindful of the delicate balance that had to be achieved.

“We all agreed that our primarily responsibility was to commemorate those we lost,” said Jon Knipe, general counsel of Silverstein Properties. “At the same time, however, we had to restore the commerce that has defined the lower tip of Manhattan throughout the city’s history.”

In the midst of all that chaos and the competing visions of the time, Silverstein Properties worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and 18 other government agencies to plan, design, finance and develop the site. 

“At the end of the day, our vision was to create a better version of New York,” Silverstein said. “That vision is now a reality. Today the new World Trade Center has come alive as a dynamic public space with timeless architecture — and is home to some of the city’s most exciting companies.”

The panel was sponsored by a partnership between Silverstein Properties and the IRES. Institute programming, such as the panel discussion, brings together experts and industry leaders with Penn State faculty, students and alumni to address problems critical to society.

“Tonight’s panel illustrates the opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students studying real estate at Penn State to have access to industry leaders,” said Brent Ambrose, Smeal professor of real estate and IRES director. “Our programs encourage students to apply concepts learned in the classroom to solve problems of critical importance to society.”

The IRES is a privately sponsored research institute within Penn State Smeal that is supported by an advisory board of alumni and friends. For more information about future IRES events or ways to get involved, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 03, 2019