The Phoenix Awards are back! After a short hiatus, the premiere awards program for brownfields redevelopment was realized at Brownfields 2022 in Oklahoma City. The 2022 Phoenix Awards awards reflect the progression of brownfield redevelopment over the past 20+ years by recognizing people in addition to projects. What was once a niche activity has grown into a practice area of its own with public, private, and nonprofit practitioners across the country focused solely on brownfields as an essential function of planning, economic development, environmental quality, and community development.

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Winner: Ignacio Dayrit

Ignacio Dayrit has made it a career mission to innovate the way we approach land reuse and community engagement. His devotion to brownfields redevelopment is evident in his blogposts, YouTube videos, and Brownfields Karaoke!

Ignacio honed his techniques for community engagement and brownfields redevelopment during his 20 years with the city of Emeryville, California. There he was an early promoter of implementing institutional controls, area-wide reuse planning, and green infrastructure to achieve long-term benefits from redeveloping contaminated properties. In addition to securing multiple EPA brownfields grants, Emeryville received three Phoenix awards during his tenure.

Since joining the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR) in 2009, Ignacio has continued to be an invaluable resource for communities of all sizes. He has helped bring to life the visions of economic vitality and healthy neighborhoods. Through CCLR’s Technical Assistance to Brownfields program, Ignacio has provided outreach and education, as well as thoughtful reviews of MARC grant applications, helping communities build capacity and obtain resources. In addition to aiding the communities that CCLR serves in the Northeast and West Coastal US, Ignacio’s expertise with bringing people together is sought by communities across the country.

In Washington state, Ignacio has been valued resource for more than a decade. He developed relationships and institutional knowledge that provided continuity through changes in local government staff. In 2019, Ignacio provided critical assistance with shaping the Washington State Brownfields Conference. He helped refine session topics and tapped into his wide network to recommend speakers within the contaminated property redevelopment community. And he helped coordinate a three hour Brownfields Redevelopment Bootcamp with 70 participants. His contributions helped make the first Brownfields Conference held in Washington in seven years into a rousing success.

As an adjunct professor at Golden Gate University, Ignacio inspires a new generation of environmental planners to incorporate resilience, sustainability, and livability to continue to build a better future.

Winner: Bruce Rasher

Both in his capacity as Redevelopment Manager for RACER Trust and in his leadership and advocacy for brownfields redevelopment nationally, Bruce Rasher is a relentless and effective proponent of the safe cleanup and productive reuse of impaired or underutilized properties, especially reuse that creates new economic opportunities for the local workforce and restores tax base for the community.

Mr. Rasher directs the redevelopment and public engagement activities of RACER Trust, which was created and funded to clean up and repurpose for redevelopment a portfolio of former General Motors Corp. properties in 14 states, many in communities that were very hard-hit by the Great Recession and loss of manufacturing jobs. At its 10-year anniversary in the spring of 2021, the activities of RACER Trust and its buyers/end users have generated nearly 26,500 permanent jobs and annual outputs of $1.9 billion in labor income and $7.3 billion in total annual economic impact. Pledges from RACER buyers/end users that aren’t yet realized are expected to add approximately 22,000 permanent jobs, $1.4 billion in labor income and $7.6 billion in total annual impact.

Mr. Rasher, who works closely with environmental cleanup colleagues at RACER to coordinate redevelopment and remedial activities to minimize disruption to either, is a nationally recognized expert in brownfield policy and development. He has delivered educational keynote presentations at events hosted by the Center for Creative Land Recycling, the Urban Land Institute, the Surplus Property Roundtable and the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast, and is a respected media source for commentary and analysis on policies and other matters related to brownfield cleanup and reuse. He also is former chairman and CEO of the National Brownfields Association.

In addition to driving direct benefits to RACER Trust communities by carefully vetting and selecting buyers capable of maximizing each property’s redevelopment potential, RACER’s redevelopment team has acted as an advocate for communities, identifying and sharing grant opportunities, connecting local leaders with state and national resources and incorporating local infrastructure needs with site remediation and redevelopment plans. By engaging with community leaders and developing an understanding of local priorities, Mr. Rasher and the redevelopment team have efficiently and successfully targeted buyers and end users whose plans were likely to be embraced, smoothing the path to productive — and often creative — reuses. Examples include new manufacturing facilities in several locations, including Flint, Mich.; the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich.; distribution centers in Livonia, Mich., and Wilmington, Del.; M1 Concourse, an auto enthusiasts’ destination and event space in Pontiac, Mich.; affordable housing in Muncie, Ind.; a solar field on a landfill in Danville, Ill.; the conversion of a former industrial area in Saginaw, Mich., to a passive-use riverfront park; and a new, transportation-oriented town center in Ewing Township, N.J.

Before joining RACER Trust, Mr. Rasher served as Vice President of CBRE, the world’s largest real estate services firm, where he was based in Detroit and managed CBRE’s North American manufacturing and brownfields specialty practice groups. He is the former mayor of Marshall, Mich.

Winner: Mel Pins

Mel Pins, Manager of the Iowa Brownfield Redevelopment Program for Iowa Department of Natural Resources is a leader in his field. He has an appreciation for Iowa communities large and small. He understands the challenges community leaders face as they work towards revitalization and provides easy to understand explanations of state and federal programs used in conjunction with Brownfields. He helps with hundreds of projects of all sizes across the state and is as excited as the communities about each project. He is dedicated to mentoring and educating others to advance the state’s presence in brownfield development. He serves each community with enthusiasm and passion.

Mel has 28 + years of experience in environmental assessment, cleanup, regulatory compliance and redevelopment planning. He has been employed with Iowa DNR for 23 years, managing and shaping Iowa’s brownfield redevelopment program since 2004 providing funding for over $9 million total projects in numerous Iowa communities. Mel takes pride in helping communities thrive. He gives back sharing his expertise volunteering on the Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment, Neighborhood Development Corporation and Somerset Neighborhood Association.

Mel helps individuals in Iowa learn about financial resources and programs available for any given revitalization situation. He provides technical expertise and helps build relationships to connect communities with other programs they can utilize. Mel provides outreach across the state to key stakeholders in communities educating individuals so they can navigate and understand the complexity regarding brownfields.

Mel was involved with Dubuque Solar Array on a RCRA Landfill Site. Dubuque’s 2017 goal was to find an innovative use for a downtown, 5-acre foundry waste landfill that was idled for 30 years. The property had a capped landfill and a “no use” covenant in place, discouraging redevelopment of the site and neighborhood. Dubuque sought to put a 5-acre solar array on the site to power 100-homes. Mel worked with EPA and the community on a plan to achieve this goal. The project focus on partnerships needed, publicly and privately, and on being creative thinkers to foster infill, brownfield, and renewable energy projects. Mel was instrumental in helping to maximize available funding and project success.

Mel is a collaborative voice helping communities think through challenges regarding brownfields. He is a key player to assure you don’t miss any available opportunity to improve your community. With the success of brownfield redevelopment projects across the state, Mel Pins makes Iowa a place where you want to live, work, and play.

Winner: Rob Wilhelmi

While some communities want to turn away from the eyesores that plague them, Rob Wilhelmi, Brownfields Redevelopment Specialist with the City of Rockford, turns toward them. For the last two decades, the Rockford, Illinois, native has worked to not only clean up the City where he was born and raised – he’s enacted local ordinances forcing accountability to property owners.

Prior to his work at the City of Rockford, Rob worked at an engineering and environmental firm after graduating from college. He specialized in assessment and remediation, managed grants, and cleaned up Brownfields. He had a company-wide impact and started initiatives that spurred innovation and development. One of his biggest projects was the former Amerock building in Rockford’s downtown. He was instrumental in taking a dangerous eyesore along the Rock River to help turn it into an $87 million hotel and convention center.

Rob wasn’t looking to change positions in 2015 when the City of Rockford asked if he would manage the code enforcement department as the Neighborhood Standards Supervisor. He accepted, knowing he could help more with blight reduction and neighborhood stabilization, than working in the private sector. Rob implemented new processes and approaches. He took City officials, stakeholders and every regional media outlet on a trolley tour, showing them half a dozen Brownfield sites to explain how these liabilities could become assets for the community.

Rob networked with lawyers and devised creative ways to develop ordinances and actively invoke them. That, with a strong understanding of the City’s adjudication process and legal tools available at the state and federal levels, turned into results. During his first 4 four years he substantially increased the number of Code Enforcement Cases averaging over 8700 cases a year. Rob was able to develop and pass two Nuisance Ordinances designed to support brownfield redevelopment and prevention. Issues are addressed faster than the state violation process and impose fines – some up to $750 per day.

After four years in code enforcement, Rob accepted the position as the City’s Brownfields Redevelopment Specialist in 2019. The program has a history dating back to one of the original United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pilot programs. Rob now manages the City’s active EPA community-wide assessment grant, a cleanup grant and revolving loan fund program, totaling more than $2 million. Rob took the reins of a strong history of awarded EPA grant funds from Revolving Loan Funds, Assessment and Cleanup Grants from 2000-2020 totaling $9.5 million.

Winner: Dan Holderness

Serving as City Engineer from 1987 until his retirement in 2021, Dan was instrumental in shaping Coralville infrastructure and redevelopment projects. He was an early adopter and advocate of the EPA Brownfields Program and saw the potential in using environmental cleanup and awareness as the necessary foundation for redevelopment projects.

When Dan began his tenure as City Engineer, Coralville’s population was approximately 8,000 and has since grown to over 23,000. In the southeast corner of the city along the Iowa River was an industrial area consisting of a truck stop, concrete plant, warehouses, metal scrap yards, waste hauling businesses, a coal storage facility, and a former municipal dump. Real and perceived pollution of these properties was a constant barrier to redevelopment. Dan started the Coralville Brownfields Program in 1998 with assistance from Terracon Consultants after the City received its first EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant. The Brownfield grants have focused on transforming the 160-acre industrial area in the southeast corner of Coralville into the Iowa River Landing.

Beyond Brownfields, Dan oversaw infrastructure projects, including major water and wastewater plant upgrades, streets, trails, commercial and residential developments, and greenspace preservation projects. He helped lead the City’s response to four major flooding events and managed flood mitigation projects leveraging $63 million in state and federal grants.

Since 1998, Coralville has received 14 EPA Brownfield grants – the fifth most of any community in the country – totaling over $2.5 million. As of 2021, there has been $369 Million in constructed Public and Private Reinvestment in the Brownfield redevelopment areas.

One of Dan’s innovative uses of funding provided by the Coralville Brownfields Program was the creation of a partnership with the Urban and Regional Planning graduate program at the University of Iowa. The grant provides funding for an annual internship as the Coralville Brownfields Coordinator. Each internship brings new ideas to the coordinator role while providing hands on experience with grant management and planning community outreach activities. To date, twenty graduate students have held the Brownfield Coordinator position.

In 2013, Dan received a Brownfields Leadership Award for local brownfield revitalization from the National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals. Dan’s commitment to brownfield redevelopment has reshaped industrial parks in Coralville into thriving commercial area with local businesses, public and private partnerships, and community involvement. His commitment is proven by the projects and funding listed in the projects, partnerships, and leveraged funding section above.