Steven Azar, Senior Planner, Economic Development Division, City of Somerville, MA, has been named recipient of the 2012 Brownfield Renewal Person of the Year Award.
Steven Azar possesses a unique cross sector and multi-disciplined perspective as an engineer, planner, broker and developer. He studied Environmental Engineering at the Wentworth Institute of Technology and began his career at the Bay Area offices of CH2M Hill, Inc. working on projects throughout California and in New South Wales, Australia. There he was employed as a project engineer and project manager, focusing on the remediation, permitting, design and construction efforts behind the redevelopment of industrial sites into neighborhood communities served by upgraded infrastructure. In 2008, Mr. Azar joined the City of Somerville, Massachusetts's planning staff in Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development ("OSPCD"). He quickly rose within OSPCD's Economic Development Division from Planner to Senior Planner and Senior Project/Program Manager.
Somerville is an urban community located adjacent to and north of Boston and east of Cambridge. With over 76,000 residents living in only 4.1 square miles Somerville is the most densely populated community in New England and the seventh most densely populated in the country. Only 123 acres of Somerville is open space, and only a fraction of buildable space is being used for active commercial businesses whose tax revenues are needed to sustain the City. Mr. Azar recognized that the development of underutilized and vacant brownfield sites offer Somerville some of its best opportunities for increasing the amount of productive recreational and commercial land in the city. In 2009, Mr. Azar volunteered to take on Somerville's Brownfield Program and through his efforts, Somerville has since been the recipient of 15 awards earmarked for the assessment, cleanup, and/or redevelopment of brownfield sites; six were awarded in 2012 totaling well over $2 million. The awarding agencies include the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), MassDevelopment, and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ("MassDEP"). In 2010, Mr. Azar submitted an EPA Hazardous Substance City-wide Assessment Grant application on the behalf of Somerville that was selected by the EPA as a national model.
Mr. Azar's actions, under Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone's leadership, have positioned Somerville towards leveraging these awards to incentivize commercial growth by limiting private sector exposure to costs required to remediate a site. One example of this includes Somerville's Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund (BCRLF), awarded by the EPA, which Mr. Azar grew from $456,000 to more than $1.5 million. By utilizing the BCRLF, Mr. Azar was able to assist a developer during the recent recession by contributing funding toward the razing of an abandoned packaging facility, as well as, work required to extend a community pathway on an abandoned rail line adjacent to the project. These actions provided assurances necessary to attain bank financing resulting in the development of 199 residential units that began to be occupied in 2012. Additionally, Mr. Azar's utilization of the BCRLF contributed to the development of a new public ice skating rink that opened its doors in 2012.
Also of significance are Mr. Azar's contributions to the orchestrated efforts involving brownfield sites within the North Prospect Block in Union Square, and in particular, the former Kiley Barrel Brownfield site. In 2010, Mr. Azar pursued Somerville's North Prospect Block to join the Brownfield Support Team ("BST"). The BST Initiative, led by Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, is a high-level multi-agency effort that concentrates technical, financial, and legal resources in the most promising (and challenging) contaminated site redevelopment projects in the Commonwealth. Somerville's project was selected by the multi-agency panel as one of only eleven projects statewide under this program since 2008 because 1) it involved significant environmental contamination from past commercial use that was blighting surrounding neighborhoods; (2) the reuse as transit.oriented development would directly result in significant economic and improved quality of life for residents; and (3) Somerville was known for Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone's extraordinary leadership, as well as Mr. Azar's, who has a reputation within the brownfield community for being a strong grassroots leader. The team for this project met monthly with Mr. Azar under one common goal, which was remarkable given that this was one of the largest teams assembled for a BST, consisting of over 12 economic development, transportation, environmental, and regional planning agencies with varied priorities, as well as, Somerville's environmental consultant for the former Kiley Barrel site, TRC Environmental, Inc.
Today, the North Prospect Block project ranks high among the BST's most successful projects; the site's remediation is fully funded and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2013. These collaborative efforts have set the stage for the revitalization of Somerville's historic downtown district, Union Square. As recently as November 2012, under Mr. Azar's management, the state adopted an Urban Renewal Plan for the area, the Union Square Revitalization Plan ("USRP"). The redevelopment of the North Prospect Block is a cornerstone of the USRP, as is the Commonwealth's commitment to the construction and operation of a new Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority ("MBTA") Green Line transit station by the winter of 2016/2017. Projections indicate that leveraging the public's investment of $3 million in brownfield remediation here will yield over 645,000 square feet of mixed-use space netting 850 new jobs and over $2.3 million in annual property taxes. The realization of these efforts will catalyze further development of other blocks and transformational areas identified in the USRP whose projections are also considerable, ushering in a rebirth of Union Square as a regional commercial center within the greater Boston market.
Mr. Azar is also responsible for the management of the Federal Realty Investment Trust Assembly Row project in Assembly Square, Somerville. Assembly Row, a $1.4 billion showcase project, is transforming a blighted and substandard industrial landscape cluttered with brownfields into a new mixed-use, riverfront and multi-modal neighborhood. The project is currently permitted for a 200-key hotel, 2,100 residential units, 1.75 million square feet of commercial space (including office, research and development, laboratory, medical, and manufacturing) and over 500,000 square feet of retail space. Mr. Azar was instrumental in drafting the successful $25.75 million Assembly Square District Improvement Financing plan (referred to as a "DIF"). This was part of the over $130 million for public infrastructure that the project received from multiple public funding sources including the state's first Infrastructure Investment Incentive program (referred to as "I-Cubed") award, Growth District Initiative award and Federal Stimulus funds. Today, the great majority of the roadway infrastructure is nearing completion, the first new MBTA railway station to be built in over 20 years is on track to be operational in Assembly Square in 2014 and four of the ten blocks within the project's adopted master plan are under construction.
Finally, Mr. Azar takes on many voluntary leadership roles within the community. Examples of this include his participation in Harvard's Graduate School of Design Brownfields Practicum moderated by Professor Niall Kirkwood that focuses on brownfield redevelopment processes. Mr. Azar is a volunteer facilitator for the Urban Land Institute's UrbanPlan program and is the Public Sector Co-Chair for the International Council of Shopping Center's ("ICSC") New England Alliance Committee focused on closing the gaps between the private and public sectors. He also sits on the ICSC Massachusetts Government Relations Committee and has attended the ICSC Strategic Leadership Summit in Washington, DC annually since 2009. Mr. Azar held a seat on the Elizabeth Peabody House's Board of Directors from 2008 to 2012 and was its Board Secretary in 2012. He moonlights as a commercial and residential broker and is a supporter of the Wentworth Rowing Club, which he founded in 1999.
Thanks to everyone who submitted nominations and voted in our Person of the Year program!