By Steve Dwyer
Rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, Ezgi Karayel has established a crystalized multi-year vision to push the needle forward on brownfield redevelopment within the Partnership’s operating footprint.
The mission that she’s accepted will come about based on various X-factors: better leveraging of experience across the organization to wring greater results; higher involvement by firms to oversee programs; more accessibility to the Partnership thanks to revised by-laws, and a more powerful commitment to fostering the causes of the Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE)
Those are just a handful of Karayel’s objectives.
The founder and principal of vEKtor Consultants, the new President also believes that although this “new normal” of the post-pandemic “seems very usual right now, it really wasn’t the case two years ago.”
That period of time was the most compelling example of lessons learned as NYCBP was able to remain relevant during tough pandemic times, scheduling more than 20 virtual panels and programs since spring of 2020. It all came off splendidly thank to the many volunteers that stepped up to make events a success. That’s the key: volunteers to make things work.
From pre-acquisition to post-development, vEKtor Consultants provides full scope engineering consulting services. The New York State and New York City Small Business Services Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) environmental consulting firm works with major real estate developers and shareholders in forging strategic approaches to the environmental challenges of complex real estate transactions and brownfield redevelopment.
Karayel holds a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from University at Buffalo, and serves on the Advisory Board of Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast. She is the chair of the Partnership’s Scholarship Program and works closely with committee members to support the education and training of students who are pursuing environmental careers.
And, Karayel’s tenure is being christened during a groundbreaking juncture: Currently, the entire Partnership Executive Board consists of women: She joins Vice President Laura Senkevitch (Human Rights First), Treasurer Michele Rogers (Blue World Construction) and Secretary Mari Cate Conlon (Haley & Aldrich of New York).
Read ahead for a conversation with the new President on a wide range of pertinent topics.
Q: As president of NYCBP, what is the three- to five-year vision you have outlined pertaining to the organization as a whole?
A: Last year, the board of directors revised the by-laws of the NYCBP. As a result of the revisions, a board member can now only serve for two consecutive terms [each term is two years]. Therefore, we will be seeing new members on the board in the near future. There are many firms contributing to the redevelopment of brownfield properties in NYC. It only makes sense to leverage one another’s experience to enhance the NYCBP programs. I suggest firms to be more involved with the NYCBP and create potential gateways to serve on the board. We want to make sure that new board members are actively involved.
Q: In the months, now year(s), following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the Partnership operating vision been re-focused, re-calibrated during a “new normal” phase where priorities have inevitably been shifting?
A: We had to adapt to the consequences of the pandemic fairly quickly. We have been hosting either standalone or joint virtual events with likeminded organizations almost every month. We held 23 virtual panels and programs since March or April 2020. I would like to use this opportunity to thank all the amazing people who volunteered to make these events possible. Attendance at the joint virtual events appears to be higher than in-person meetings. The convenience of not traveling for over an hour and not having to take time off work are definitely plusses.
Q: Can you discuss the magnitude of how this industry has evolved—maybe a seismic shift—to where a die-in-the-wool organization like the Partnership is now led by an all-female board of directors?
A: Great question. Let me begin by saying having an all-female executive board was not a coincidence. All four of us have served on different committees of the NYCBP for a very long time. Each of us brought something valuable to the table. I think the first time I was involved with the scholarship committee was in 2012 or 2013, and I was appointed to the board in 2018. To put it another way, the all-female executive board did not emerge out of thin air. As I mentioned before, with the revised by-laws, the NYCBP is now more accessible. We recently started a new virtual event series: Women in AEEC (Architecture, Environment, Engineering, and Construction) Professions. Originally, the event was planned around women in environmental professions when we kicked it off last month in honor of International Women’s Day. Little did we know that this would turn into an inaugural event. The 90-minute session was so motivating that all attendees asked for it to be a quarterly event! I’m beyond pleased to see more and more women in our industry needless to say.
Q: Following up on the repercussions of COVID-19, can you talk about how things might change in the context of NYCBP-sponsored events and workshops?
A: I’m happy to announce we will be hosting an in-person BABAs this year. It will be a different concept than the previous years but we would like to acknowledge the recipients and their successful projects as well as provide an opportunity to some of our sponsors to have face time with their clients. Unfortunately, the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic is not helping to plan events ahead of time. Hence, the different concept at a different borough for the first time ever! I won’t reveal more about it but an announcement will be made soon.
Q: When you think about the Big Apple Awards and the Duncan scholarship, what would you do to strengthen both of these initiatives to power them up from an equity standpoint?
A: There is an amazing group of volunteers behind both programs who make these programs look effortless. Big Apple Brownfield Awards have always been a success. We almost always receive over fifteen applications. We changed things up a little bit this year with a few new categories. We recently had our committee meeting to vote on this year’s applications and the quality of the projects applying for the award has significantly increased. I find it very rewarding to see all these brownfield sites being remediated and creation of job opportunities, and to address community needs. I have no doubt that the BABAs will only continue to thrive in the upcoming years.
Q: How easy, or hard, has it been to get applicants for the scholarship program?
A: It has always been a challenge. There is an ongoing trend when students start their applications on the day they hear about the program but then only a handful of them actually end up finalizing the applications. We have an inside joke to call their parents and ask, why would you not want free money! Although we had a breakthrough last year when we received 21 final applications. The application process is short and painless. With our online presence through the virtual events and fundraisers, we most definitely strengthened the scholarship program.
Q: As founder and Principal of vEKtor Consultants, how much does your professional career bleed into what happens with the Partnership from an operational standpoint?
A: Short answer is a lot. At vEKtor, we focus on brownfield redevelopment projects across the NY metropolitan area. Having firsthand experience on these projects and working closely with developers and lenders on a daily basis helps me to advocate on their behalf. 2022 has been an extremely busy year in the brownfield industry. The Brownfield Cleanup Program was scheduled to sunset in December 2022. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation issued a Notice of Rulemaking to amend the current Part 375 regulations. We also have a new Governor with a new State budget. The NYCBP has been working tirelessly to address all these almost concurrently progressing proposals.
Q: Can you discuss areas such as funding New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate and joining the statewide BCP extension coalition led by the New York League of Conservation Voters?
A: Funding [New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate] was done to update their original 2014 study, which was first updated in 2015 analyzing the impact of the NYSBCP on the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield sites in New York State. Joining a statewide BCP extension coalition led by the New York League of Conservation Voters ensures that the BCP and Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) Program are extended and strengthened.
Now that the Governor’s State budget has been finalized, we are pleased to see the 10-year extension of the BCP, meaning the NYSDEC will continue to accept applications through December 31, 2032. However, we are disappointed with the addition of a $50,000 non-refundable application fee, which will be payable upon receipt of acceptance into the Program. From a practitioner standpoint, I’m concerned this high fee will discourage small developers, non-for-profit and MWBE groups from participating in the program, thus resulting in less cleanup and redevelopment throughout NYS.
Q: Can you discuss details about NYCBP establishing a committee to review and comment on the NYSDEC’s proposed Part 375 revisions?
A: We have been meeting on a bi-weekly basis and focusing on top 10 big revisions that would affect implementation of the Program. I should also mention, the recently established small business committee consisting of private consultants and engineers, specifically focusing on one proposed revision [§375-1.6(c)(4)(ii-iii) – Final Engineering Report]. We are very concerned that requiring the field staff to work for the same as the certifying professional engineers would adversely impact many firms in NYS. Small environmental consulting firms have successfully completed thousands of New York State and New York City-regulated Brownfield cleanup projects under the current regulations by collaborating with engineering firms or sole practitioner professional engineers. The proposed revisions adversely impact consulting engineers, geologists, qualified environmental professionals (QEPs) who have been effectively conducting environmental investigation and remediation projects for decades throughout New York State.
Posted May 2, 2022