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Industry icon James Soltesz continues to drive mega projects,

green initiatives, government reform

 

Posted March 20, 2019

From urban skylines to government regulations to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, James Soltesz’s impact on Maryland is visible and profound. 

Over the course of more than 30 years, Soltesz has played vital roles in the execution of mega-projects, environmental initiatives, development trends, changes in government operations and even a new financing model for infrastructure projects. 

So MDSPE was proud to name Soltesz as the recipient of our inaugural Icon of Industry Award this year.

The president and CEO of Soltesz, Inc. in Rockville, Soltesz and his 140-person company are widely known for their work on many of the largest development projects in the Washington metropolitan area. Those include the redevelopment of Downtown Silver Spring, North Bethesda Town Center, Konterra, Viva/White Oak, National Harbor and its MGM Casino and Resort. 

“When I started working on National Harbor, there wasn’t even a road out to that property,” Soltesz said.

The mega-development faced a litany of physical, financial and political challenges. But that’s what made National Harbor — and other major developments — exciting to Soltesz.

“The challenge with these massive projects is you are starting with an enormous, blank canvas. The White Oak project that we are working on now is 12 million square feet. As the civil engineer working with the property owner, the planners, the architects and numerous public agencies, you have to create a vision for that property that fits the market, that’s feasible and will benefit the future of that community. That’s challenging and scary and really fun,” he said. 

Through those high-profile projects as well as other urban and suburban redevelopments, Soltesz became recognized for his keen insight into how to maximize the cultural, natural and physical features of existing sites while also placing great emphasis on environmental stewardship. 

A keen supporter of the Environmental Protection Agency’s MS-4 program and its objective to improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay, Soltesz steered his company into extensive water management and environmental work, including stream restoration, green streets and stormwater retrofit projects. 

Soltesz, Inc. last year completed a $100-million stormwater management project for Prince George’s County which retrofitted facilities across 2,000 acres to bring them into compliance with MS-4. The company is about to begin phase two of that project. Soltesz was the lead designer for the initiative. Known as the Clean Water Partnership, it is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership to facilitate and finance MS-4 compliance. 

“This whole issue of private financing of public infrastructure is so exciting, so new, so challenging,” Soltesz said. “The paradigm of having private entities design, construct, operate and maintain all kinds of infrastructure is a huge, huge opportunity. The way many people do infrastructure in the future is really going to change.”

That vision and enthusiasm for finding ways that public and private sectors can work together to support development, the environment, the economy and Maryland as a whole has repeatedly compelled Soltesz to get involved in “extra-curricular activities.”  

He is a life director of the Maryland Building Industry Association, a current director of the University of Maryland Medical System, and chairman of the Montgomery County Executive’s Economic Advisory Group. He has served on boards or committees for the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Maryland Department of Transportation Citizen Advisory Board, and others. He has served on transition teams for Governor Larry Hogan, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission General Manager Carla Reid. He also co-chaired Gov. Hogan’s Regulatory Reform Committee in 2015.

So it’s probably not surprising that when he is asked about what advice he would offer young engineers, Soltesz doesn’t talk about technologies or particular opportunities or even market trends. Instead, he urges, “Look at the big picture, consider the community you are in and consider the responsibilities you have to the community.”

 

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