Session 1 Bios:  Flipping the Paradigm: Preservation as the Foundation for Sustainable Economic Growth

Thursday October 15, 1:00pm - 2:30pm


Chair/Moderator:  Alex Tarantino

Alexandra Tarantino is an architectural historian with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and helps to manage DelDOT’s Cultural Resources Program. Alex is responsible for the review and coordination of transportation projects across the state to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. As a subject matter expert, she conducts architectural history surveys, assesses project impacts, and provides technical expertise and guidance to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts to cultural resources. Prior to joining DelDOT, she worked as a Historic Preservation Specialist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Alex earned a B.A. in Art History and a Certificate in Historic Preservation from Rutgers University and completed her M.A. in Historic Preservation at the University of Delaware, where she worked on the Mid-Atlantic Historic Buildings and Landscapes Survey at the Center for Historic Architecture and Design. She has served on Preservation Delaware's Board of Directors since January 2019 and is the current chair of the Education Committee.


Marilou Ehrler

Marilou Ehrler, R.A. is a historical architect and the Chief of Cultural Resources at Gateway National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. Prior to joining NPS in 2008, Ms. Ehrler was in private practice specializing in the preservation and restoration of historic structures. Her experience includes adaptive reuse, restoration, preservation planning, evaluation and assessment of materials and systems, documentation, design, and project management. Projects have ranged in size and importance from condition assessment of locally significant buildings and sites to the preparation of construction documents for the restoration of National Historic Landmarks. As the Chief of Cultural Resources, Ms. Ehrler oversees the Park’s cultural resource division which includes over 600 historic structures in nine historic districts including one National Historic Landmark District, 300 archaeological sites, a museum collection, tribal consultation and Section 106 review process. During her tenure at Gateway, Ms. Ehrler worked with a team to develop a method of prioritizing the Park’s cultural resources and worked with the recovery team to develop resilient solutions for the repair of the Park’s cultural resources damaged by Hurricane Sandy. She serves as a member of the NJ State Historic Site Council and a former member of her townships historic commission where she helped to write the historic preservation ordinance.

Diane Laird

Diane Laird is the Executive Director for the Downtown Dover Partnership, a designated Main Street program and development corporation for Delaware’s Capital City of Dover where she leads efforts in commercial property development and occupancy and promotes the city's rich economic, historic and cultural assets. 

Prior to her current role, Diane served as State Coordinator for Downtown Delaware, the state’s Main Street Coordinating Program office and community revitalization resource center.  She initiated the state’s vacancy-reduction programs, Project Pop Up and Unlock the Block, regularly speaks at the national Main Street America conferences, and has co-authored several articles for Main Street News on downtown business development and the Americorp VISTA® program.

Diane is an award-winning artist watercolor whose signature style combines watercolor and pen/ink with architectural subject matter.  She has an MA in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from UD University of Delaware, and a BA with specialization in Interior Design from the College of New Jersey.

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is the County Historic Preservation Officer for state and federal projects within Chester County. Ms. Marshall encourages historic preservation projects to enhance interpretation and heritage planning throughout Chester County in keeping with the goals for historic resources in Landscapes2, the county’s comprehensive plan. The technical assistance she provides to municipalities and the public includes guidance related to: education and outreach programs highlighting area history; historic resource protection; historic resource surveys and documentation; historical commission organizational development and membership recruitment, National Register nominations; Section 106 and local ordinance application guidance; and Historic Structures Reports & Impact Studies.

Sean O’Neill

Sean O’Neill joined the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration (IPA) in May of 2017. Sean’s role with IPA is multi-faceted, but includes working on applied research projects with state agencies such as DelDOT and the Office of State Planning Coordination, direct project work on comprehensive plans and related projects with local communities from the City of Wilmington to Sussex County, and managing IPA's Local Government Leaders training program. Sean has also done project work at IPA on the topics of economic development, housing, bicycle and pedestrian mobility, city and town management, and community health issues.

Prior to joining IPA, Sean was a Senior Planner with the Chester County, PA Planning Commission where he was responsible for coordinating housing and emergency management related efforts in addition to working directly with municipalities through the County's Vision Partnership Program. Sean spent the first 10 years of his career working in the Washington DC and Baltimore region at the City of Annapolis, MD Planning Department, Colliers International, JPI Inc, and The Bozzuto Group. During his time at the City of Annapolis, Sean was active as an Emerging Planners liaison and won an award for "New Planner of the Year" from the Maryland Chapter of the APA in 2009. 

In addition to serving on the Executive Committee of the Delaware Chapter of the American Planning Association, Sean currently serves as a co-chair of the ULI Delaware Council and is an active member of ULI Philadelphia's Regional Advisory Board. Sean and his wife Casey have 2 young daughters and are active supporters of the March of Dimes Delaware Chapter as well as St John the Beloved parish in Wilmington, DE. Sean holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government & Politics as well as a Master’s degree in Community Planning from the University of Maryland.

Ryan Spak

Ryan Spak has a passion for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, their history and its real estate. This passion, coupled with fifteen years of entrepreneurial experience in building maintenance, construction and real estate development ignited his firm belief that no distressed property should ever remain in an inhabitable, unsafe condition.

This was the basis for Project Rehab, a program Ryan developed and spearheads for University City District to help property owners remediate distressed properties. Since its inception in 2011, Project Rehab has positively affected development in over 55 buildings (154 residential and commercial units) in University City creating approximately $26.3 million in additional real estate value.

Because of his community development efforts, Ryan is a member of several boards and local committees, mentors through the JumpStart program and has been a guest speaker at National Conferences on Vacant Land National Code Enforcement and the Philadelphia Poverty Conference.

As a result of his creative solutions to resolving distressed property, Ryan has won the University City Historical Society’s “Outstanding Preservation Award” three times and Spak Group’s Larchwood Flats property has won the 2016 Extreme Makeover Award and the Preservation Alliance Grand Jury Award for 2017.

Within his organization, Ryan focuses on property acquisition, joint venture partnerships, construction management and financing for Spak Group. Over the past four years, Spak Group has organically tripled in size with 140+ residential / commercial units under management and another 71 units under construction, in development or planning.

Dee Durham

Dee Durham lives with her family in her childhood home in Rockland, Delaware adjacent to Brandywine Creek State Park where her passion for conservation and historic preservation was instilled exploring the woods and streams of the park as a child, and watching as the acres around were developed and historic resources and open space lost forever.  Dee served as the Executive Director of Preservation Delaware from 1995-2002.  Dee then became the Executive Director of S.A.V.E., a land use, conservation planning and transportation advocacy organization based in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  While at S.A.V.E. Dee led initiatives to protect historic bridges and rural community character, being recognized with Preservation Pennsylvania’s Chairman’s Award in 2012.  She has served on numerous nonprofit boards including many in the conservation and preservation arena.  In 2010, Dee co-founded Plastic Free Delaware and continues to lead its initiatives today.  Since November 2018 Dee has served as a New Castle County Council Member and already led the passage of several ordinances which strengthen county code regarding historic resources.

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