Written by Sarah Sieloff, Executive Director
Posted on January 22, 2020
At the National Brownfields Training Conference in December, CCLR honored three outstanding brownfield redevelopment practitioners with National Brownfields Leadership Awards. For many years, these awards have recognized land reuse luminaries who have made significant contributions to our field. Given only every two years at the National Brownfields Conference, the National Brownfields Leadership Awards honor practitioners who have distinguished themselves as problem solvers and innovators, and whose work is helping make the built environment more livable, sustainable and equitable.
Our awardees were nominated by a broad survey of redevelopment practitioners and selected by a distinguished panel of fellow practitioners, and today. Their careers and achievements offer inspiring examples of how brownfield redevelopment makes an enduring difference in communities across the country.
Lifetime Achievement: Excellence in Local Public Service
Deputy City Attorney, City & County of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
The National Brownfield Leadership Award for Excellence in Public Service honors an individual for their work in service of the public good at the local level. In her 35 years as a Deputy City Attorney with the City and County of San Francisco, Elaine Warren’s career exemplifies this commitment to the public good, but her dedication to public service has been evident from the very beginning of her career. Elaine received a B.S. in Sociology from Santa Clara University in 1973, an M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA in 1978, and her J.D. in 1984 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, and an environmental planner for the South Coast Air Quality Management District in southern California. Following law school, Elaine joined the San Francisco law firm of Landels, Ripley and Diamond as an associate, and served as a law clerk for the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.
In 1985, Elaine joined the City and County of San Francisco as a Deputy City Attorney. She has been instrumental in moving forward most of the City’s large brownfield redevelopment projects, including Mission Bay, Candlestick Point and Hunters Point Shipyard, Mission Rock, India Basin, and Treasure Island. These projects are changing San Francisco’s relationship with its waterfront and laying the foundation for a more sustainable 21st century city. Elaine’s work encompasses a broad variety of environmental issues, including environmental compliance, brownfield remediation, and land use. She has advised City boards, commissions and departments on land use and environmental law matters ranging from air quality, to emergency response, endangered species, hazardous materials and waste, historic resources, solid waste, water quality and wetlands.
Among the many large projects on which Elaine has worked is Mission Bay, a 300-acre redevelopment project on San Francisco Bay where redevelopment began in 1998, following two failed attempts. Elaine was instrumental in negotiating a workable plan for remediation and hazardous substance management, and today, the Mission Bay area has almost 6,000 housing units, 30 percent of which are below market rate; 4.4 million square feet of commercial space; the University of California San Francisco medical center at Mission Bay; and the Chase Center, an arena for professional basketball.
Elaine has also worked on the 700-acre Candlestick Point - Hunters Point Shipyard mixed use redevelopment project, which will redevelop the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a federal superfund site, and Candlestick Point, site of a former professional football and baseball stadium. When redeveloped, this project will contain over 12,000 new housing units, almost a third of which will be below market rate; 5 million square feet of research and development and office uses, and over 300 acres of parks and open space, including a complete renovation of the Candlestick Point State Recreation area.
In addition to these brownfield projects, Elaine has worked on a variety of public and civic infrastructure projects, including authorizing a long-term water supply plan to serve 2.5 million people; rebuilding a dam; constructing a bus rapid transit system, and building a professional baseball stadium and a public hospital.
At the National Brownfields Leadership Breakfast, Elaine was introduced by Dorinda Shipman, Vice President and Principal with Langan Engineering in San Francisco. Dorinda has worked with Elaine on several of San Francisco’s major brownfield redevelopment projects for decades, and she noted that Elaine is a thoughtful advocate in promoting appropriate risk management while helping development teams work through difficult challenges and protecting City and public interests.Her institutional knowledge of San Francisco has made her an invaluable resource for all redevelopment stakeholders.
Dorinda reflected that Elaine’s abilities to balance the inputs of multiple stakeholders while navigating complex redevelopment issues are part of what has made her so effective. “Elaine has the amazing ability to remain calm and diplomatic when dealing with a wide-range of organizations and individuals working in various high pressure situations. She is conscientious, inclusive, empathetic, genuine, persistent and extremely hard working. She gives sound, thoughtful advice and is highly respected by her peers.”
Elaine’s approach to projects helps all stakeholders remain mindful of the broader community and environmental justice issues that are so important for large, cityscape-changing redevelopment projects. As someone who has worked with Elaine over many years, Dorinda stressed that this ability to help stakeholders focus on the bigger picture, and on all the questions that need to be asked in pursuit of the best solution for San Francisco and its citizens, is crucial. Together with her analytical and facilitation abilities, Dorinda also noted that Elaine’s sense of humor is greatly appreciated, and that Elaine has an impeccable sense for knowing how to appropriately lighten the mood in often intense and difficult discussions.
Elaine’s impact on San Francisco’s present and future can’t be overstated. Her unflagging service to the City, its residents, and sustainable land reuse will continue to echo into the future as the City’s biggest brownfield redevelopment projects come online, delivering housing, parks, trails, retail, transit, and other amenities for the next century and beyond.
Lifetime Achievement: Excellence in Thought Leadership
President, Vita Nuova
New York, NY
The National Brownfield Leadership Award for Excellence in Thought Leadership honors an individual whose creativity, innovation, and intellectual labors have advanced brownfield redevelopment as a field. Michael Taylor began his career in brownfields trying to help clients redevelop contaminated properties, and many of these deals fell apart at the last minute due to liability concerns. When the EPA Brownfields Program was established in 1995, Michael pitched EPA on the idea of creating an ASTM Brownfields Standard. EPA accepted Michael’s idea, saying that it would support the development of an ASTM standard and even fund communities to participate, provided that Michael developed the standard in collaboration with the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. EPA. Three years and many stakeholder meetings later, a unanimously approved ASTM standard for brownfield redevelopment was born.
That was Michael’s first taste of trying to improve the brownfields redevelopment process, but not his last. With inspiration from Dante, Michael founded Vita Nuova in 1998 to apply the best practices embodied in the ASTM standard (Michael’s wife is a Dante scholar, and vita nuova means “new life” in Italian. It is also the name one of Dante’s volumes of poetry, published in 1294). Through his participation on the EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Siting Subcommittee of the NEJAC, he helped shape Superfund redevelopment and other important redevelopment initiatives promoted by U.S. EPA.
Since then, Michael has grown Vita Nuova to be a national consulting firm focused on working in some of the most challenging urban communities like Camden, NJ and Gary, IN, as well as in small rural communities like Dunkirk, NY and Cottonwood, ID. Vita Nuova has trained over 5000 community, state and federal stakeholders in redevelopment and developed 20 new tools to help communities navigate and leverage EPA’s Land Revitalization Program, including the PREPARED Workbook (Process for Risk Evaluation, Property Analysis and Reuse Decisions). Michael has continued to work with EPA’s Land Revitalization program on a new effort called the Redevelopment Toolbox, which is intended to help EPA leverage its limited funding and expand the amount of support to communities through online technical assistance.
Michael’s approach to working with struggling communities centers on listening, and getting people to work together. “The key in tough communities is seeing the barriers through local eyes, and figuring out a path forward,” says Michael. Michael’s first project with Vita Nuova is a great example.Drug dealers had taken over a local park and were using the adjacent brownfield to hide. The community didn’t want to engage police because it feared retribution. Michael knew that it was crucial for his team to convince the community to work with the local police department and understand the significant environmental issues associated with the site. The collective power of all stakeholders working together was the critical, intangible factor that would be necessary to advance the project. Only with these initial steps would greater collaboration be possible -- working together, showing up at meetings, and compromising when necessary. “Vita Nuova was built to be more than a planning firm – we have to acknowledge everything that makes up humanity in rebuilding struggling communities. The mental, spiritual, intellectual, energetic and emotional aspects of community building are every bit as important as the physical world,” says Michael.
Michael regularly helps clients redevelop refineries, chemical, nuclear and Superfund sites. One of Michael’s most recent projects, which is breaking ground on January 28 in Oakley, CA, is illustrative of his work. Michael worked as a consultant to DuPont and then Chemours to identify a strong developer, Kansas City-based NorthPoint Development, to purchase and plan redevelopment of a 143-acre waterfront and former chemical manufacturing site, called the Contra Costa Logistics Center. Located just under 40 miles from the Port of Oakland (the eighth busiest container port in the country), Oakley has long been a Bay Area bedroom community, where most of the City’s 42,000 residents commute to jobs an hour away. With rail service, highway access, and a strong local labor pool, Oakley’s Contra Costa Logistics Center was optimally positioned for job-rich industrial development.
For its part, Oakley knew that it needed jobs. Like many of the neighboring communities along the northern waterfront of Contra Costa County, Oakley has been seeking ways to help its residents work closer to where they live. The Contra Costa Logistics Center represents a significant step forward for the city, and by the third quarter of 2020, the site is expected to host approximately 600,000 sf of built space, which will form the basis of a new manufacturing and distribution presence in the city and ultimately generate an estimated 2,000 jobs.
Michael notes that understanding barriers to project success from a local perspective is essential. Oakley, for example, knew that it needed jobs, but Michael’s work with his client, the real estate market and the City helped identify the market niche that could fulfill the need for local jobs. Progress in brownfield redevelopment, says Michael, can mean moving forward an inch at a time. “It’s always about engaging and empowering local people.”
Lifetime Achievement: Excellence in Redevelopment
Managing Partner, Renovare
The National Brownfields Leadership Award for Excellence in Redevelopment recognizes an individual whose work has generated leading redevelopment projects that have expanded the frontiers of brownfield redevelopment. Throughout many roles in her career to date, Shannon Morgan has completed over 20,000 units of housing, and she is far from done. Her projects have encompassed challenging redevelopment projects in both urban and rural settings. Her dedication to improving brownfield policy and funding programs is helping move the field forward in important and durable ways.
Shannon has been engaged in real estate from her teenage years: her parents owned a local real estate brokerage company, where she worked starting at age 16. Shannon received her real estate license at age 18 and put herself through college by practicing real estate.
Her background in real estate and business administration led to a college career focused on market feasibility studies. Out of college, Shannon was recruited by the largest residential development company in Michigan, Crosswinds Communities. The firm worked across nine states, and as Shannon described, “Our projects were predominantly Brownfields,” especially complex, challenging sites. Shannon’s firm grew from building “missing middle” infill housing to building master planned developments on challenging, large-scale brownfield sites. One of their best known projects was Mason Run in Monroe, Michigan, which involved a $7 million cleanup of a former paper mill site and won multiple awards for new urbanism development.
Shannon notes that “My most valuable experience comes from challenges, as opposed to what’s gone right.” With the 2008 financial crash, her firm went from building 1500 units of housing per year in sites around the country, to building almost nothing. They launched Home Renewal Systems (HRS), a company focused on neighborhood stabilization in Michigan and Ohio. Their first project was the adaptive reuse of a former historic high school in northwest Michigan using low income housing tax credits (LIHTC).
With HRS, Shannon found herself working one-on-one with local municipalities -- including rural ones -- to create growth strategies. She became engaged with issues of redevelopment policy, and has continued to do so to this day. “As a developer,” says Shannon, “you’re less involved with policy unless it impacts your project. Even with the right planning and initiatives, our biggest challenge is often the lack of correct policy.”
Cities like Marquette on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (population 20,000) often sought out Shannon and her colleagues. Two days before Shannon and her team flew into Marquette for a first visit, they learned about the vacant, abandoned turn-of-the-20th-century Holy Family Orphanage, which was slated for demolition. Multiple redevelopment plans for the building had failed. Located on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior, the building had been vacant for almost 40 years, and was the topic of five books. The building, however, was in rough shape: it was contaminated with lead and asbestos, and there was a tree growing through the middle of it. Shannon and her team decided to take on the former orphanage, using a capital stack that involved tax increment financing, historic tax credits, and 9% state tax credits. Shannon and her team redeveloped the Holy Family Orphanage into mixed income and especially workforce apartments, and a community center -- all desperately needed in a college town suffering an acute lack of affordable housing. Almost 1000 people showed up for the grand opening. And that tree that was growing through the middle and front of building? It was made into furniture that occupies the building today.
The social components of the Holy Family Orphanage redevelopment were as significant as the environmental and technical issues. The site was highly significant for local Native American tribes, as the orphanage had been home to generations of Native American children who had been removed from their families as a means of forced assimilation, and later adopted out to white families, sometimes never learning about their cultural heritage until adulthood. Throughout redevelopment, Shannon’s team worked with multiple stakeholders -- including the County, National Park Service, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and a local citizens’ action group. Shannon reflected, “I had never been involved in a project that had that type of camaraderie and initiative. Everyone worked together to get this project done.” Today, the building is known as the Grandview Marquette/Marquette Holy Family Orphanage.
That’s how Renovare, Shannon’s current company, was born. Latin for “to renew, restore or revive,” Renovare is a woman-owned firm focused on mixed-income and mixed-use redevelopment projects in Opportunity Zones, mostly in Michigan. Shannon partnered with former Wayne County Community Development Director Jill Ferrari, an environmental lawyer by training, and to start exploring redevelopment in new ways.
One of Renovare’s current projects is the redevelopment of a historic firehall with leaking underground storage tank issues in Munising, MI (population 1500), which is also home to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the first such national lakeshore to be designated by NPS. While Munising’s National Lakeshore has existed since 1966, the City has seen a boom in tourism since it was approached to be a poster child for the “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign. Tourism has expanded by over 50% in five years, and an acute affordable housing crisis. The city hasn’t seen new housing construction since the late 1980s, and due to a lack of lodging, it is not uncommon for Munising to turn away hundreds of visitors per day. Renovare is redeveloping the firehall into a vertical mixed-use development in Munising’s historic downtown. The project is currently a year away from groundbreaking. “The environmental issues and capital stack will be extremely challenging, but we’re confident in our ability to make this work,” says Shannon.
With an Opportunity Fund and a focus on Opportunity Zones, Renovare’s goal is to continue to push the envelope of redevelopment possibilities. Shannon remains focused on policy, and has championed several successful pieces of state and federal legislation in support of smart growth and housing. She was awarded the 2018 “Affordable Housing Developer of the Year” by Smart Growth America’s LOCUS, a national coalition of developers and investors advocating for sustainable, walkable urban development. She serves on the advisory committee for the Redevelopment Ready Communities for the Michigan Community Development Association, among many others. As Shannon notes, “We’re trying to make old programs work today, and they don’t. Projects tend to change from what’s needed to serve communities to what’s needed to win LIHTC awards. To change policy at any level, we have to tell a story that connects everyone. We have to be radically pragmatic, because that’s how innovation can happen.” It’s worth noting that Shannon describes herself as a “pretty passionate person,” which is clearly an understatement. The energy she brings to redevelopment is already making meaningful changes, and we look forward to seeing what she does next.
2019 Leadership Awardees