By Kara Allison, APR  |   June 13th, 2015
brownfield redevelopmentWhen I was 13 years old, I spent a few weeks during my summer vacation going to work with my dad. At the time, he was chairing the Department of Welding Engineering at The Ohio State University and teaching a summer course for graduate students. The department and its classrooms were housed in a crumbling World War II-era building on campus – complete with rusted nuclear fallout shelter signs tacked to the concrete block walls; huge, humming industrial lights hanging from the ceilings that had to be turned on with massive electrical switches; a dark, dusty industrial-smelling machine shop; and a lab filled with recycled 1970s welding robots. This old dirty building – and in particular the machine shop with its wire storage cages, high ceilings, cranes and other dated equipment and tools – became my “playground” that summer, a constant spark of curiosity and intrigue with each visit. And unbeknownst to me at the time, it was setting the stage for my future career passion: solving the puzzle of redeveloping brownfield properties.
I didn’t have a clue as to what a brownfield was when I was 13. My dad was attempting to persuade me to study engineering, hoping that spending some time with him on campus might “rub off” and I’d pursue it as a career. I spent a lot of time exploring the building, studying how it was built and how the machines worked, taking pictures of everything. I was intrigued by the windows in the roof of the welding lab and how the panes of glass were different colors, smudged with the accumulated dust and grime of many years passed. In the back corridor of the building was a “break room” of sorts, with grimy mismatched chairs and a 2,500-piece jigsaw puzzle spread out on a wooden table. It was a picture of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue – the famous photo Arthur Sasse captured on Einstein’s 72nd birthday in 1951. A handful of the graduate students around the building worked on this puzzle between classes and labs, and so did I. Collectively, we finished the puzzle that summer. It was a sense of accomplishment that stuck with me. I didn’t get a picture of it, but I always thought it was the most interesting setting for solving a puzzle.
It’s funny how the experiences I shared with dad that summer did influence me in the long-run. I flashback now to those memories every time I set foot inside an old manufacturing building. I always notice the smell of an abandoned factory – that heavy industrial, dusty smell that seems to linger in every brick and beam. It smells exactly like the old Welding Engineering building used to. I’m drawn to and take pictures of the windows, and in particular the multi-colored panes with the rusted-out frames, especially the windows I find in former automotive assembly facilities. They look exactly like the ones in the old Welding Engineering building did. I comb through the relics left behind in the former employee break rooms – old newspapers and magazines, pictures up on corkboards, and occasionally, a jigsaw puzzle of some sort. It looks exactly like I remember the break room being in the old Welding Engineering building.
Today, that old Welding Engineering building only exists in my memory. It was demolished and replaced by a modern facility with new classrooms and research labs some time ago. But I often think back to that building when I’m working now with developers and community partners on new brownfields revitalization projects, and I’m influenced by the challenge of the Einstein puzzle I helped solve that summer. Perhaps you have a brownfields puzzle waiting out there that I can help you solve? Here at Hull, we’re really good at putting the pieces together.
For the record, I didn’t grow up to become an engineer. But I do work with a talented group of engineers every day and I figure that’s probably close enough for my dad to claim his influence “rubbed off” on me. Until next time… 
Kara Allison, APR, Director of Communications, Government and Community Relations
Kara Allison directs Hull’s corporate communications and public affairs initiatives where she specializes in state and federal environmental policy and legislative issues, community outreach, media strategy, and crisis communications.  As a part of Hull’s funding team, she has assisted in securing more than $185 million in grants for brownfields, energy, and green development projects.  A journalism graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Kara has 20 years of experience in public and media relations.  She is a principal in the firm, an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and a registered lobbyist in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Kara builds credibility with legislators, government officials, municipalities, community groups, and reporters by helping them understand the various environmental issues associated with development projects.  She also works with developers and communities in public-private partnerships to help foster creative redevelopment and funding strategies for brownfield and renewable energy sites, and has been directly responsible for developing public relations and community outreach strategies for a number of high-profile, large-scale national redevelopment projects.  She routinely provides public outreach and media counsel and shares her in-depth regulatory, legislative and program knowledge with staff and clients. 
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