Victoria Whelan joins Partnership board with a goal of adding fresh eyes, new perspectives to the organization, industry
By Steve Dwyer
Want to know the secret formula of becoming a new Partnership board member?
If this past year is any indication, it starts with volunteer involvement with the Partnership, often through the Scholarship or Big Apple Brownfield Awards (BABA) Committees. This volunteerism then immerses you in the group for a couple years and can lead to consideration as a board member. And once the new member is on board, what comes next is a host of visionary ideas about how to make the organization stronger for the future—with a broadened membership inclusion at the apex of the vision.
This is the course Victoria Whelan charted when she was named a Partnership board member in October, 2021. She is bringing new perspectives to the time-honored organization, providing a fresh infusion of ideas bound to serve the Partnership well as it evolves further to best represent the ever-changing New York City brownfield industry.
Whelan has served as a nomination committee volunteer in the vetting and selection of the BABA awards and became a co-chair of the BABA initiative.
Whelan, a NYS licensed PG, is senior associate at Preferred Environmental Services (PES), North Merrick, N.Y She joined PES because she was attracted to a smaller-size environmental organization that is a Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) environmental consulting firm.
Preferred has become a “go-to” WBE subconsultant for the generation of high-quality environmental data to satisfy the NYC OER, the NYSDEC, the MTA, NYCDEP, NYCEDC, NYCSCA, NYCEDC and the NYCDDC applications for large scale new urban developments.
This firm has broad experience in all phases of environmental assessment activities, focusing on due diligence, property transfer, environmental claims handling, construction support and environmental restoration. “We run a tight ship. We strive to keep costs down, and that starts with holding down hourly [fees] for developer clients. What is cool about PES is that we are all professional geologists and are true environmental professionals, all licensed in New York.”
Working for 13 years for another small environmental firm, Whelan “took a break for a while” to work on the contractor side of the business. “I learned a lot about time management in being part of teams with long-term goals at the forefront. People thought I was crazy to work on the contractor side, but the experience allowed me to gain a fresh perspective, and this served me well to better assess what I wanted to focus on for the next 10 years of my career.”
Volunteering In Her Blood
It’s no surprise the Whelan choose to volunteer for the BABA selection process. Outside of this industry, her passion happens to be rooted in volunteerism. She sits on a board for a non-profit that she started up herself. She adds: “Put good out into this world and good comes back—a small bit of help exponentially helps the community.” The non-profit group, ACE Family Foundation, “helps people where, say a family member is sick, we will help pay for costs not covered by health insurance.”
On BABA award involvement, the process entails reviewing application, organizing and planning the event, which involved making up invitations and even “selecting the swag that will be given away.”
The BABA experience affords a front row seat to sorting through excellence that underpins NYC brownfield redevelopment. The relationship with the Partnership has now evolved to where Whelan envisions big things for the organization as she eases into her board seat. Championing affordable housing is front and center on her agenda.
Affordable Housing Expertise
Whelan’s “true passion” is affordable housing developments. She talked about guiding affordable housing developers through the process. “I have been doing this for 15 years as part of a team with affordable housing developers. One of my eternal goals is to help reduce costs for these developers within these AH projects—lower the overhead—and then use the savings created to pump resources back into the communities, all done to enhance the lives of the local residents.”
Looking at the roadblocks that occur with affordable housing projects, Whelan says that federal, state and local governing bodies can often hinder progress, and this needs to be better addressed. “I can help developers navigate the environmental hurdles: in the five NY boroughs, there’s a challenge with space [availability of real estate] for affordable housing projects.”
BABA keeps Whelan quite busy from Jan to May. She is also working with Board Member Kevin McCarty to expand the Partnership‘s membership to include small businesses and other Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) environmental businesses, such as PES.
“Some of these smaller-size firms are under the impression that becoming part of the Partnership would not be feasible for them, starting with a misconception about costs of membership.” She wants to flip that script. “I want the Partnership become more inclusive pertaining to the diversity of the member profile. The BABA process also showed me that the same ‘types’ of projects were continually getting nominated and that also needs to diversify.”
The future—2022 and beyond—looks brighter for what the Partnership can accomplish with a new breed of board member helming the navigation process. Finding prime new board members starts with volunteerism, and so much can dovetail from there. Stay tuned.