The PLACE Team

Chris Velasco, Executive Director

For 31 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 Bowling, CoFounder

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.

Accomplishing the charity's mission with the limited resources available means applying a high degree of rigor and risk-assessment to its endeavors.

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."


Board of Directors

PLACE is fortunate to have volunteer Board of dedicated Directors from diverse professional and personal backgrounds.


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

Jonathan Pearlstein
Designated Broker / Member, Summit Real Estate Group LLC
President, RE Consult Inc., Law Office of Jonathan Pearlstein

Elizabeth Bowling
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

Alice Hiniker




Advisory Board



Mike Brennan

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.



Kristin Hanson
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.



Todd Hedtke
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. 



Chris Vye
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.



Mary Rockcastle
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.


Dominique Battle

Dominique Battle was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She went on to graduate from Hampton University with a B.A. in Strategic Communications then continued my studies at New York University where I earned my M.S. in Hospitality Industry Studies. She has held positions in non-profit, retail, agricultural services, and hospitality.

Through her education and experiences, she has developed a growing interest in outreach efforts that support and aid the growth of low-income neighborhoods. As a Community Associate at WeWork she had the opportunity to connect with PLACE and join in their efforts to make the change needed.


Michael Bjornberg
Leo A Daly, University of Minnesota

Michael Bjornberg is an architect, specializing in existing buildings (Minnesota State Capitol) and complex projects - works nationally (US Air Force Academy Chapel) and a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Design.


Maria Dahmus
St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership

Maria Dahmus, Ph.D., is the co-founder and director of the Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) at the University of St. Thomas. Maria seeks to collaboratively bring community-identified sustainability goals to life through experiential and applied learning partnerships with St. Thomas courses, communities, and local artists.


Michael Klein
St. Thomas Department of Justice and Peace Studies

Mike Klein, Ed.D. is Associate Professor and Program Director of Justice and Peace Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas. His teaching, research, publishing, and consulting focus on democratizing leadership, peace education, critical pedagogy, art for social justice, and peacebuilding. He develops the agency of students and communities to transform structures and culture for social justice.

Stephanie Hawkinson
City of Edina

Stephanie Hawkinson is the Affordable Housing Development Manager for the City of Edina. She has worked in the Affordable Housing Field for 20-years primarily on financial structuring and policy.


Robert Ashmun
OMC Group

Robert is a highly experienced businessperson, specializing in vision, strategy, and business model innovation. In his twenty years of C-Suite and Management Consulting experience, he has worked with startups, nonprofits, and prominent Fortune 500 organizations alike, including NASA, Air Force Research, CBS, HP (Global Strategy), Walmart, Exxon, Talent Analytics Group and PLACE.

Robert inventively designs, develops, and deploys complementary strategies to solve complex challenges, delivering solutions that far exceed the sum of their parts. He has over ten first-to-market products and services that discover organizations’ core challenges, deliver competitive advantages, increase ROI, reduce risk, and leapfrog the competition (e.g., a 3D Predictive Analytics Stack that maximizes Return on Talent or the STAR Program, Student Talent Acceleration Resources for improving education and hiring outcomes).

In coordination with his own strategies, Robert utilizes proven tools such as Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Neuroscience Marketing and Sales, Mentoring, Team Management Platforms, and Social Platforms. He also applies his expertise in Multimedia Production and his background in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning from Stanford University.

Robert’s volunteer activities include PLACE business model innovation and marketing strategy, ASCAP Intellectual property (IP) monetization strategies, IP protection, and mentoring music composers (of genres ranging from classical to pop) to maximize their ROI.

Robert has been ranked in the “Top One Percentile” for valuable creative thinking among 9000 Senior Solutions Leaders by People Assessments, has achieved 1 Platinum, 3 Gold, and 5 Silver Records for worldwide music sales, created two Top 10’s Europe and three US Dance Chart hits, earned the 1990 Minnesota Video Award, and at age 15 was sponsored by Hart Ski Corporation, becoming one of the top national Freestyle Skiers for three years in a row.


Julie Lux
BKV Group

Julie Lux has 30 years in the commercial real estate industry, now with BKV Group as pre-development services, sourcing opportunities for clients. She is passionate about the affordable housing industry and helping create quality affordable housing options in our market.


Blair Bui
Deep Green Development


Tatum Hayes
Museum of Outdoor Arts


Debbie Rich-Walker
Home Depot

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