Winners of the 1st National Opportunity Zone Pitch Competition Revealed
Former Michael Reese Hospital redevelopment chosen first among national pool of promising and impactful Opportunity Zone projects.
Last week at the University of Illinois at Chicago, BrownfieldListings.com (BL) hosted Opportunity Zone (OZ) projects from across the country in a first-of-its-kind open pitch competition for real estate redevelopment projects in OZs, as part of the inaugural Brownfield & Opportunity Zone (BOZ) Bootcamp. In collaboration with Calumet Collaborative, the pitch competition concluded an eye-opening and groundbreaking day of educational programming packed with a diversity of leading redevelopment experts. As each speaker approached OZs from their own professional disciplines and added distinct elements, the day built into a brilliant panoply of perspectives that was received to rave reviews.
“As a community and economic developer, I'm always on the lookout for the latest and greatest ways to build prosperity locally,” said attendee Lisa Wogan, of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County in Illinois. “Brownfield Listings' Chicago Opportunity Zone Bootcamp added so much value to the standard OZ discussion,” she added, “with so many actionable takeaways that I couldn't wait to call my colleagues to talk about our next projects.”
During a substantive and thrilling pitch competition, 8 finalists competed for the affection of the judges and the audience, as well as a top prize of $5,000 of legal services provided by leading redevelopment law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP).
Every presenter brought their A-game, which prompted terrific questions from the pitch competition’s 3 esteemed and well-prepared judges, Susan Brice of BCLP, Max West of Aon and Sarah Coulter of Calumet Collaborative. With prizes, glory and the potential for real investment all on the line, the jovial atmosphere belied the high stakes. The professional courtesy of the judges and competitors brought out the best in this friendly match between OZ projects.
As Sarah Couler, Executive Director of Calumet Collaborative, exclaimed in the aftermath: “Being a judge of the pitch competition was challenging but also a lot of fun!”
“I was really impressed with the geographical range and variety of projects,” she added. “I was happy to see that all of the projects would make a tremendous impact in their communities.”
The 8 finalists were:
Given that nearly all the pitch competition finalists were brownfields of some sort, and either had known environmental issues, had them remediated already or might have environmental issues to investigate and address as a result of previous development, the judges zeroed in on environmental gains. “We were focused on Opportunity Zone projects that benefitted the project’s community and that involved a brownfield that would be remediated via the project,” said Susan Brice, a partner at BCLP. “We were particularly interested in projects that showed they had given the economic, social and environmental issues a lot of thought and had worked to mitigate risks, or, at least, had thought through the ways necessary to mitigate the risks,” she added.
Like the projects themselves, it was a lot to balance. But one project emerged as the clear and consensus winner among the judges: The Burnham Lakefront project.
One of the Chicago's biggest, most historic and most significant brownfield projects, the Burnham Lakefront project is located in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood adjacent McCormick Place on Chicago's Near South Side. The well understood, strategically located and well assembled site -- having been made larger through the recent acquisition of nearby parcels -- checked all the boxes and impressed from the pre-pitch period onward, beginning with its background materials provided to judges in advance.
Ultimately, however, the project team’s strong pitch and responses during the Q&A with judges won the day. “They [Paula Robinson and Elle Ramel] delivered the winning presentation for Bronzeville and a fantastic community owned parcel,” said an inspired Max West, sitting as pitch judge on behalf of Aon, the global insurance provider. “I was impressed with the plan for the business campus, with the renewable energy plan, and their awareness that their greatest asset is their location there in Bronzeville, a great Chicago Neighborhood.”
“Project AP was impressive too,” added Max West in reference to the economic development opportunity in rural Pittsfield, Illinois, closer to St. Louis than Chicago. “How they were bringing modern aquaculture farming to a traditional farming community felt like the future arriving now, and creating jobs with it.”
Other top finishers included:
Runner up: Southland Logistics Center, Harvey IL
Second runner up: Project AP (Aquaponics), Pittsfield IL
Third runner up: Bayfront Place, Erie PA
“The electricity for all these diverse projects in the pitch proves there are compelling opportunities in OZs,” said Dan French, co-founder and CEO of BrownfieldListings.com and emcee of the event, “and the incredible stream of outstanding presentations we saw here at the inaugural pitch competition of the BOZ Bootcamp is powerful evidence of just how real and impactful the new OZ regime can be when fully realized.”
“The pitch competition demonstrated why the Opportunity Zone program and redeveloping brownfields is so important to all of disinvested and overlooked areas of our country,” concluded Sarah Coulter.
“I’m thrilled to bring this win home for the team,” said Paula Robinson, President of the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership and representing the G.R.I.T. LLC Master Development Team managing the project, along with Elle Ramel Director of Development at Farpoint Development. “[We] had just five minutes to compete against seven other presenters,” she added. “The judges were tough but they saw our vision to leverage the OZP and turn the former Michael Reese Campus from a Brownfield into an economic engine for the Bronzeville/South Lakefront Region!”
SAVE THE DATE! The next BOZ Bootcamp & Pitch Competition will be held at the New Jersey Institute of Technology on October 17, 2019! Registration & pitch sign up coming soon!
Special thanks to our terrific event sponsors: