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Iran RPCV Peggy Lucas Scales Lofty Heights of Success
Iran RPCV Peggy Lucas Scales Lofty Heights of Success
Lucas Scales Lofty Heights of Success
by Judy Woodward
Peggy LucasWhen Peggy Lucas ('63, history) thinks about the environment, she's apt to focus on preservation of urban spaces that others have given up for dead. "Preservation is a huge environmental issue," says Lucas, who is a founding partner of Brighton Development, a major Twin Cities developer in the areas of historical restoration and affordable housing. "You can either haul those [abandoned] buildings to the landfill or bring them back to life."
Under Lucas' direction, a whole section of Minneapolis might be said to have risen from the dead. Fifteen years ago, the historic West Side Milling District near downtown Minneapolis was a warren of abandoned buildings and rat-invested industrial ruins. Although the district has the Mississippi River as its natural front yard, until Lucas and her partners came along, there were few who appreciated the possibilities of some of the oldest and architecturally most interesting buildings of the Twin Cities.
The seven-story North Star Blanket Factory had sat unused for decades and was on the verge of being demolished when Lucas and her partners stepped in. "It had been dark for 50 years," Lucas recalls. "It was pretty far gone. The roof and walls had caved in. There was nothing but broken glass, pigeons, and graffiti."
Lucas and her colleagues were able to look beyond the surface decay to the mellow brickwork, the high ceilings, and the oversize windows that even years of neglect had not been able to obscure. And they saw the potential for upscale urban living.
Their first major project, North Star Lofts, touched off a wave of similar residential remodeling in the area in the mid-nineties and became a model for historic preservation. Like other Brighton projects to follow, the project won a Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Award in 2000 for adaptive reuse. A later project, Humboldt Lofts, received the award in 2003 for "best new construction in a historic district."
A few years ago, Lucas was named one of "25 Most Influential Women" by the CityBusiness (now the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal). In May 2004, she received the Steve Murray Award for distinguished achievement in historical preservation from the Minneapolis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.
Not bad for an ex-cheerleader who grew up in Mound, Minn., and whose initial ambition was to have "an adventure" while accompanying her doctor husband to some of the more exotic parts of the world. In 1965, the young couple joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Iran. They returned to Minneapolis when David Lucas began his medical residency. Intending to become a social worker, she spent the next several years pursuing an M.S.W.—taking time out to raise two sons (Mark, now 37, and Brian, 35).
Lucas soon discovered that her interests lay in social policy issues, particularly affordable housing. She realized, she says, that "if people don't have a place to call home, you can do anything, but it doesn't help."
Brighton Development was founded in the early 1980s in response to a challenge laid down by a bureaucrat whose name Lucas can no longer recall. When Lucas and a friend wondered aloud why public housing was so often downright unattractive, the official told the two thirty-something women, "If you girls think it's so easy [to design aesthetically appealing low-income housing], why don't you give it a try?" And so they did.
Lucas's original partner eventually left, but by then the company was launched. Over the years, the focus has gradually shifted from affordable housing to historic preservation; the devotion to good design and quality workmanship have remained constant.
Today, Lucas is thinking about her next step. Her husband is happily retired from his radiology practice, and they have three young granddaughters. She's a major supporter of Gopher women's athletics and the 2003 winner of the U's Athletic Director's Award. "It's such a healthy role model," she says, "for little girls to want to be Lindsay Whalen instead of Britney Spears."
As for her professional accomplishments, she feels the most pride in "just driving around town and seeing what we've done over the years. Even small projects have re-energized the neighborhood."
When this story was posted in September 2004, here was the front page of PCOL Magazine:
Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview
This month we sat down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.
Then read the questions and answers one by one and leave your comments on the issues raised during the interview including Infrastructure Upgrades and the new Situation Room at Headquarters, Is there a Budget Crunch this year at Peace Corps, Peace Corps' Long Term Expansion, the Changes to the Five-Year Rule made last year, Safety and Security Issues, the Cooperative Agreement with NPCA, RPCVs in Policy Making Positions at Peace Corps Headquarters, Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002, Director Vasquez's Accomplishments as Director, the Peace Corps Safety and Security Bill before Congress, Continuity at the Agency during Changes in Administration, the Community College Program, and the Director's Message to the Returned Volunteer Community.
Read the stories and leave your comments.