Moving On

I don’t know if it’s totally hit me yet, but this week I announced that I’m leaving my role as the Real Estate Program Coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. For nearly 5 years, I’ve worked with amazing people towards a really important community goal. In the time I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole professional life has been spent with the Preservation Alliance.

The people are what I will miss most: the staff, the volunteers, the Board Members, and the people who make our work possible. You all are some of the most dedicated, interesting people I’ve had the opportunity to know. I’ve explored vacant buildings, toured some of the best architecture Minnesota has to offer, and even climbed the Grain Belt Sign – you can’t say that about every job.

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I’m moving over to the dark side: real estate development. Just kidding; it’s not dark at all, no matter what you’ve heard. Development is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time, but the right opportunity never presented itself. Now that it has, I’m more than a little devastated to be leaving these amazing people, but excited to see what is next for me.

I’ll be a Project Manager for Bader Development, a local firm that shares my feelings on the importance of development (whether historic or new construction) being of benefit to the community. I believe that this step forward will make me a better preservationist and advocate for impactful positive community development. I do still hope to remain involved in the preservation community moving forward, just in a different capacity.

The other night my wife asked me about the things I was most proud to be a part of with the Preservation Alliance. It’s a scary thought, boiling five years of your career into a handful of things. But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a minute and list them out:

  • Duluth Armory – I’ve been honored to work with the Armory Arts & Music Center to help them find a solution for their amazing building. They’ve held on to the building for 14 years, buying time for preservation, repairing damage from Mother Nature’s wrath and fending off more than a few calls for demolition. The future has never been brighter for this building and this organization as together we’ve found a developer and look forward to working towards a transformed area around the Armory.
  • Historic Tax Credit – The Preservation Alliance worked for 11 years to get the legislation passed and while I wasn’t involved in much of it; I think it has more than paid off. So many of the properties that were languishing have seen reinvestment providing affordable housing for artists, space new businesses and revitalized neighborhoods. We’ve worked closely with developers to promote use of the credit and it has been a great success.
  • House at 447 Smith – While this may not be a done deal yet, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two of the most diligent advocates around working to come up with a creative solution to a real estate issue. We hope that by the end of this year, a house will have been moved (within the neighborhood) to a currently vacant lot (providing neighborhood stability), rehabbed and sold to an owner occupant. Preservation can be a little muddy sometimes, but anytime we can keep buildings out of the landfill it’s a win to me.
  • #HeartBombing – When we launched #HeartBombing last year we had no idea what to expect. We were trying to tackle different issues than Buffalo but were hoping to see people connecting with the campaign in a similar manner. I don’t think I could have imagined some of the growth that we’ve had with this effort; people were coming to us this year asking if they could participate because they love their historic home or building and wanted to show it off.

I’d love to remain in touch, so I’ll offer up my personal email for now – Please reach out; I’ve met some incredible people with the Preservation Alliance and don’t want to lose touch.

Will O’Keefe

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