Tejal Pastakia — 2013 Asian American Visionary

This October, the Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community.

By Signe Predmore
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Pastakia recently worked on the Pike Place Market remodel.

In an industry sometimes perceived as riddled with wastefulness and unnecessary spending, Tejal Pastakia is fiercely committed to making the most of what is already there. Her architecture and property development career has centered on transforming urban spaces and breathing new life into historic structures.

Pastakia is the hard-working, driven founder and principal of her own successful property development firm, Pastakia & Associates. The firm has been involved in many local development projects, including the recent renovations of the Pike Place Market, which were completed in 2012.

The Northwest Asian Weekly has chosen Pastakia as a 2013 Asian American Visionary to honor her professional accomplishments.  The event, which takes place Oct. 18, honors contributors of the APA community.

Originally from Mumbai, India, Pastakia came to the United States to attend college in Oklahoma. In 1995, she began graduate studies in architecture at the University of Washington, which she chose for its desirable Northwest location and the potential employment prospects in Seattle.

“Seattle has a very high number of privately-run, nonprofit, multi-family housing organizations, and when I started my career in architecture, what I wanted to do was affordable housing,” Pastakia said.

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Tejal Pastakia

She relished the challenge of working with both budgetary and site-based constraints, and was particularly inspired by projects that applied tax credits and other financial models to transform undervalued sites and old buildings into up-to-date housing for under-served markets.

Pastakia also enjoyed designing spaces for very specific populations. She has worked on a range of projects, from housing intended for families with three to four children to apartments for homeless women over the age of 45, who were going to have a permanent home for the first time in their lives.

After spending several years designing affordable housing, she moved on to market-rate housing so she could weigh the pros and cons of each.  When she had her fill of that business, an opportunity arose to work for a local property developer, Lorig & Associates.

“It felt like the right fit because they did fee development with nonprofit organizations, and they also did a lot of adaptive reuse of historic buildings, which is an area I have a lot of experience in,” Pastakia said.

Her commitment to historic projects is extensive. In addition to multiple design and development jobs featuring historic elements, Pastakia was a member of the King County Historic Commission for years and served a term on the Pioneer Square Preservation Board.

“Historic preservation has always been near and dear to me because it truly represents what I believe in, which is a complex, out-of-the box kind of thinking where you apply an adaptive reuse model to something that had one use and give it a new life,” she said.  “It’s always exciting to do something like that.”

With the position at Lorig, Pastakia began her transition from architecture to the world of property development — an entirely different realm, according to Pastakia.

“I think I’m a better architect today because of my experience in development,” she said. “I think differently. [Development] is not just looking at design and construction, you have to marry economics with design — creating true balance between the two, that’s the real challenge.”

Even with buildings not old enough to be considered historic, some of Pastakia’s greatest property development successes have been with the adaptive reuse model.  She recalled a college dorm renovation project from her days at Lorig as one of which she is most proud.

“All the other proposals had talked about tearing the building down, because this was a really brutal, ugly 1960s building,”

Pastakia said. “We were the only developer who wanted to do a renovation and we totally transformed it.  At that time, that was the most economically feasible solution, and a sustainable solution. Why tear a six-story concrete building down and build woody walk-ups?”

Not everyone was initially convinced.

“I remember the university was not very receptive because it had been such an eyesore,” she said. “But by the time we finished it, we had a waiting list because it was so dynamic and unique.“

After several years at Lorig & Associates, it felt like the next step was to start her own consulting firm.  “I come from a family of business people,” Pastakia noted. “Everyone in my family has started their own business at some point in their lives.”

Her mother-in-law, Yasmin Erannee, particularly, has been an inspiration and influence for Pastakia.

“[Yasmin] is one of the most well-recognized business women in India. She owns her own hair salons and has built a name for herself. She started out as a working mom, and she’s always been able to balance quality of life and work.”

A working mother herself, Pastakia’s consulting business allows her the flexibility to prioritize her two young children while remaining ambitious in her career.

Pastakia & Associates was established in 2007. It was Pastakia’s experience in historic preservation that made her firm a good fit for the Pike Place Market restoration. Several contractors and development managers were involved in the project, and Pastakia came on board for the second of three project phases.

Her role was largely to work with Market tenants to ensure they could maintain their livelihoods while the renovations were in progress. One of Pastakia’s solutions was to purchase and retrofit six shipping containers to allow some of the small businesses to continue operation during the construction.

The goal of the firm is to distill best practices in development from the range of experiences they have working on a variety of projects with different clients. “And I think people are recognizing that we bring a fairly unique set of experiences,” Pastakia said.

Eventually she would like to use these best practices to do her own development. “I’d like to own my own portfolio of boutique residential buildings in Seattle,” she said. But this dream for her, “it’s not about the monetary aspect, it’s more about the vision of building something on my own.”

When asked for reflections on being a woman of color in her field, Pastaskia was a bit reticent. Her focus is on the merit of her work.  She is more concerned with the quality of her accomplishments than with her social status in the industry.

However, Pastakia does credit her work ethic to her experience as an immigrant. “It is not about working with an ego but working toward a goal, it’s very goal-oriented,” she said. “The vision I have for the company is to be a well-recognized development firm.  That comes from just working my way through college and building a dream for myself.” (end)

The Visionary Award Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6 – 9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. Discounts for students available. For more information, email rsvp@nwasianweekly.com.

Signe Predmore can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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