Chris Velasco, Executive Director
For 25 years, Chris has been actively engaged in the development of leading-edge communities. He has worked in over two hundred cities around the world, and has been a leader in the creation of over $1 billion in new mixed-use, specialty facilities. In early 2013, Chris and PLACE cofounder, Elizabeth Bowling, filed a U.S. Patent Application for E-Generation, a renewable energy process that powers communities from renewable energy and waste.
Chris has led PLACE in the development of new models for urban neighborhoods that demonstrate radical innovation in environmental design, live/work hubs for creatives and creative businesses, job creation through retail and manufacturing, affordable workforce housing, and supportive housing for the most economically distressed. Chris works for each PLACE project to reflect the highest community ideals, create beautiful and inspiring places, lift people out of poverty, empower community participation, and provide equal opportunity -- all while generating economic return, creative and green-collar jobs, and renewable energy.
An innovator in the area of housing cooperatives, he worked to develop some of the nation’s early leasehold housing cooperatives for artists. In 1991, he began work on the economic revitalization of the Lowertown area of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Over several years, Chris worked on three major properties, catalyzing the renaissance of Lowertown, preserving national monuments, and creating jobs, opportunities for small businesses, affordable homes, and live/work cooperatives.
Chris' projects have won numerous awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Institute of Architects and more. He is a frequent keynote speaker and lecturer in the areas of sustainable communities, the arts, live/work communities, ethical development, community and economic revitalization and the environment. Chris has addressed the AIA, the National Summit on Arts and the Environment, Americans for the Arts, NACCED, Urban Land Institute, LISC, Renaissance Weekend, Detroit Public Schools, HUD, and many more. In 2009, he was awarded the Mayor’s Arts Award, and a fellowship to Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation.
Elizabeth helps shape PLACE visions and actions; coordinates our extended team of professionals across the nation; integrates our legal entities, financing tools, and funding sources and ensures their compliance with regulations; and co-leads our research and development, particularly in the areas of best organizational practices, development of social capital, and resource optimization.
Early in her career, Elizabeth produced a study for the Minnesota Department of Rehabilitation Services to transform vocational support services to reach people suffering homelessness. After two years in the field, she returned to graduate school, intending to apply her direct service knowledge to formulating and implementing policy. She earned a combined JD/MA in law and public policy with honors from the University of Minnesota and the Humphrey Institute, with a concentration in community economic development. Having worked for 17 years in public, private, academic institutions and her own law practice, Elizabeth co-founded PLACE in 2005 with Chris Velasco.
Elizabeth has made a lifelong commitment to pursuing social justice. Often asked what the term means, she clarifies:
"Social justice is the principle that all persons, irrespective of their inherent characteristics or their means, are to be treated equitably, with integrity, and without prejudice, transforming justice extended to the individual into justice for all. I think of it as best practices for optimizing human potential."
Alice Hiniker, LEED AP BD+C
Alice graduated in 2014 with a Master of Architecture from the University of Minnesota, having completed her Bachelor of Science in Architecture at the University of Michigan in 2009. She became a LEED AP BD+C in 2009 and volunteered at Greenbuild in 2009 and 2010. Alice believes that while sustainability must be encouraged for all new and existing buildings, it is equally important to develop buildings that are healthy, beautiful and affordable as well.
While working on her MA, Alice searched for a way to bring healthy well-designed buildings to people of all backgrounds. This led her to volunteering for PLACE as she finished her degree and joining the team after graduating. She believes the most interesting and meaningful architecture sparks curiosity, meets basic needs while providing a more engaging experience, and protects both people and the environment. Not only should these characteristics be more prevalent in architecture, they should be available to everyone despite their financial or personal situation. Everyone deserves a healthy and enjoyable place to live, play and work, and Alice came to PLACE because they hold these same beliefs.
Abby helps communicate PLACE’s visions and actions to the broader community, facilitates internal strategies and team building initiatives, and manages projects and work plans that further PLACE’s commitment to equity and inclusion.
She envisions a world where our most marginalized communities can pursue what lights their hearts on fire. A world where the prosperity that already exists is insulated, providing access to economic agency and ownership. She believes the way to get there is through joy, connection, and curiosity.
Using design thinking, community outreach, and project management, she works to facilitate experiences from which to joyfully pursue a better world.
Todd is a law, planning, and development professional who works with local groups, governments, and various design, construction, finance, and other professionals to create vibrant, innovative, and sustainable communities. With over 15 years of combined experience in law and community development, he is skilled in building alliances, leveraging efficiencies, and navigating obstacles to accomplish great things with limited resources.
Todd has helped obtain funding for and optimize the usability and accessibility of an adaptive reuse project involving a former casket factory. He has counseled and represented local governments, conducted multimillion-dollar litigation, represented kids in foster care, and helped enforce ADA regulations as part of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Todd is a licensed attorney in Minnesota and Colorado (inactive) and an AICP Candidate, serving on the Equity and Diversity Committee of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association. Todd has a Bachelor of Science degree from Tulane University and Master of Science and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Iowa, where Todd received the Jim Harris Memorial Award for his commitment to community.
In his spare time, Todd coaches youth basketball and teaches language arts (and occasionally math) at Summit Academy OIC. He is also an artist of sorts, having produced works as a musician, filmmaker, and podcaster
Elina joined PLACE in November 2019 thanks to a prestigious fellowship program called Baltic-American Freedom Foundation for emerging civic leaders. Elina recognizes that our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies, so she challenged herself to broaden her own perspective and complement her education with an international work experience at PLACE. She is a Latvian in heart, but a global citizen in mind.
With a bachelor’s degree in Regional development and Urban Economics and master’s in Spatial Planning, Elina is a valuable addition to the PLACE team. Coming from the other side of the globe, Elina brings a unique perspective, challenges what appears ordinary to others and from time to time teaches Latvian to her co-workers.
She aspires to grow as a public leader, tackle socio-economic issues in her home country through community planning and urban design and she is dedicated to work towards pursuing sustainable, resilient and inclusive communities.
Board of Directors
Chris Velasco, President
Executive Director, PLACE
Garth Rockcastle, Co-Vice President
Professor, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation
Founding Principal, MSR Architects
Kerri Stahlecker, Co-Vice President
Associate General Counsel, Optum
Brent Webb, Treasurer
Development Manager, Mortenson
Emily Monarez, Co-Secretary
Workplace Consultant, Steelcase
Romulo Samaniego, Co-Secretary
Senior Property Manager, Gotham City Group
Designated Broker / Member, Summit Real Estate Group LLC
President, RE Consult Inc., Law Office of Jonathan Pearlstein
Executive Team Member and Co-Founder, PLACE
Owner, Elizabeth B. Bowling, PLLC
Dr. Charles Raison
Mary Sue and Mike Shannon Chair for Healthy Minds, Children & Families
Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, School of Human Ecology
Professor, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Director of Development, University of Arizona Libraries and Press
Founder of the Natural Heritage Project
Former Vice President and Corporate Compliance & Ethics for Target
PLACE first met Brennan when he was with Allianz. While at Allianz, Brennan was instrumental in fostering the relationship between PLACE and Allianz.
Estella M. Eckhart
Complex Business Development Manager at Morgan Stanley
As the Complex Business Development Manager, Eckart is committed to partnering with and coaching Financial Advisors and teams to facilitate the growth of their business. She helps Advisors refine their processes and run their businesses more efficiently, and proactively connect them to the resources of Morgan Stanley.
With nearly ten years in the financial industry, Eckart bring insight and dedication, which is essential to navigating today’s markets. She is passionate about working with Advisors on multigenerational wealth planning strategies. She has a proven track record of trust and commitment with her clients and she extends the same commitment to the Advisor in her Complex.
Lifelong learning has always been a priority for Eckart. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a major in Economics with Quantitative Emphasis and a minor in Business Administration from Carlson School of Management. In a fast-paced global environment where information and variables are constantly changing, she is committed to ongoing education as a way to stay a step ahead.
In 2008, Eckart was a proud recipient of the award “25 on the Rise”. This honor is presented by Twin Cities Business and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It recognizes professionals under the age of 40 who are making a positive impact in Twin Cities Business and in the Hispanic community. She was also featured in Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine as a Top Wealth Advisor 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Archelle Georgiou, M.D.
Founder, Georgiou Consulting
Dr. Archelle Georgiou is a physician and healthcare industry expert who describes herself as a "recovering" healthcare industry executive, a data lover, and a storyteller.
Archelle graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, practicing in Internal Medicine for 5 years before transitioning into managed care in 1995. From 1999-2007, she was as an executive with UnitedHealth Group and served as chief medical officer as well as CEO of United’s Care Management subsidiary.
In 2008, Dr. Georgiou founded Georgiou Consulting. She works with companies outside the typical boundaries of the traditional healthcare system - because that is where she believes innovation in healthcare will emerge. Some examples include TripleTree, a healthcare-focused mergers and acquisitions firm in Minneapolis, and the Copper Development Association, the trade industry group for the copper industry where she focuses on the awareness and adoption of antimicrobial copper surfaces to decrease healthcare-associated infections. For more than ten years, Archelle leveraged the media to drive changes in healthcare and had also been the medical expert for Fox 9 News'. Archelle joined KSTP in April of 2014 as a regular contributor of weekly health segments and healthcare specials.
Director at Public Financial Management, Inc.
Kristin Hanson is a Director at PFM in the Minneapolis office. Ms. Hanson has been involved in public finance for over 20 years as both an issuer and a municipal advisor, She is experienced with various types of debt financings, capital project financing, legislative process, the credit rating process, tax impact and levy analysis, and operating and building elections.
She currently serves on the boards of the Debt Management Advisory Council for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chapter of Women in Public Finance, and is a member of the Debt Committee for the Government Finance Officers Association.
Chief Investment Officer, Allianz Life Insurance of North America
As Chief Investment Officer, Todd Hedtke leads the investment management, liquidity planning, hedging, and trading of more than $100 billion of insurance assets for Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life®), Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, and San Francisco Reinsurance. He is also a member of the global Allianz Investment Management Board, which services the Allianz Group insurance companies.
Prior to joining Allianz Life in 2000 as director of Allianz Investment Management and VP for Allianz Life, Hedtke held various finance and investment positions at Cargill, EBF & Associates, and American Express.
Hedtke earned his BA from Hamline University and MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. In addition to being a Chartered Financial Analyst, he holds designations as a financial risk manager and Fellow of the Life Management Institute.
Cynthia Madden Leitner
President & Executive Director, Museum of Outdoor Art
Leitner has been the Executive director for the Museum of Outdoor Arts for over 30 years. MOA is a forerunner in the placement of site-specific sculpture in Colorado. Our art collection is located within various public locations throughout the Denver metro area. From commercial office parks to botanic gardens, city parks and traditional sculpture gardens; art is placed to interpret space as “a museum without walls.” Foremost, MOA believes in ‘making art a part of everyday life.’
MOA is headquartered at the Englewood Civic Center in the heart of Englewood. MOA also offers INDOOR galleries, studios and special events and programs.
Chair - Graduate School of Professional Psychology, University of St. Thomas
Dr. Vye completed his doctoral studies in clinical psychology at the University of Minnesota in 1990 and completed his pre-doctoral internship at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. After graduation, he worked as a practitioner at an urban medical center and then in a private practice before joining the St. Thomas faculty in 1999. Before joining St. Thomas, he was a clinical practicum supervisor, adjunct faculty member, and consultant to health care organizations where he helped establish specialty services for individuals with anxiety disorders.
He has an interest in the assessment and treatment of the anxiety disorders and has had a specialty practice, which he co-founded, treating individuals with anxiety since 1999. He is a licensed psychologist in Minnesota. His scholarly interests are in the areas of anxiety, psychopathology, psychotherapy research, treatment outcomes assessment, and graduate training in professional psychology. He has been the Chair of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology since 2013 and also served as Associate Dean in the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling from 2010 to 2013 while also serving as the GSPP Chair. He currently teaches courses in psychopathology in the MA and doctoral programs.
Professor at Hamline University, Director of The Creative Writing Programs
Mary François Rockcastle is the author of the novels In Caddis Wood and Rainy Lake, both published by Graywolf Press. Rainy Lake was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award and earned a Best Book for the Teen Age from the New York Public Library. She is the recipient of a Bush Foundation Fellowship, a Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction, and a Loft Mentor Award, all in fiction. She received the 2015 Kay Sexton Award in recognition of her long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota.
After completing an M.A. with a double emphasis in English and creative writing from the University of Minnesota, Rockcastle joined the adjunct faculty in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Hamline University. She and her colleagues worked together to develop and launch the MFA in Creative Writing program at Hamline, where she also began teaching. In 1997 she founded Water~Stone Review, a literary magazine which has earned numerous Pushcart Prizes and other honorable and notable mentions and for which she was awarded the W. Lindberg Award for Excellence in Literary Editing in 2009. She remains the executive editor.
In 1999, Rockcastle became Director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Programs at Hamline and in 2004 was made founding dean of the Graduate School of Liberal Studies (GLS). During this time she received an award for outstanding teaching and service. As Dean of GLS, she launched a low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2007 and a BFA in creative writing in 2010. When GLS merged with the College of Liberal Arts in 2011, she became Director of The Creative Writing Programs.
She served for six years on the board of directors of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, three of them on the executive committee, and led the effort to create Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies. She is currently on the board of the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature at the University of Minnesota.