Reformed worldview meets redevelopment

John Reinsma ’01

by Gayle Boss
Fall 2012

When John Reinsma ’01 speaks to city councils, he often finds himself describing his vision for a development project in the language of Reformed theology.

“They think I’m smart,” he said. “It’s just that Calvin ingrained in me the Reformed worldview.”

Which almost didn’t happen.

“I came from Colorado—where we have 300 days of sunshine a year—for a Fridays at Calvin in February,” Reinsma remembered. “I got off the plane and it was so cold and dreary, I thought, ‘This is a horrible idea.’”

But something illogical intervened that February weekend in 1997. “There’s no other way to describe it: It was a God moment,” he said. “I knew without a doubt that God was calling me to Calvin.”

God moments have studded his life ever since. In Guatemala, where he taught rural women how to raise and market chickens: “In my work I saw the application in real life of ideas that were just cerebral in school, especially the idea that you can do God’s work through economics.”

In Africa: “I learned confidence. If I could get lost in Mozambique and figure it out, I can figure out a tough business negotiation.”

After a hockey match in Denver, where a teammate told him about a job opening with international environmental engineering and redevelopment company Weston Solutions: “When I first heard about the job I thought, ‘This is Calvinism in real estate form.’”

Reinsma is now the senior development manager for the company’s Rocky Mountain division.

“What I do is called brownfield redevelopment,” he explained. “We buy contaminated real estate—old warehouses, chemical plants, dry cleaners—anything where the site and/or soil has been contaminated by its former use. We clean it up, then redevelop it into something not only new and useful but also green and sustainable. My job is to serve as quarterback, shepherding from start to finish a process that redeems and restores the property.”

The project he’s most proud of (so far) will celebrate its grand opening in October.

“The urban renewal authority of Wheat Ridge, a first-ring Denver suburb, owned a blighted property where a grocery store had burned down 30 years ago,” Reinsma said. “There was a transmission station and gas station there, too. It was ugly, ugly.

“We found that Wheat Ridge has an aging population too young for assisted living, but no longer able to maintain their own homes. So we applied for a grant from the state allowing us to build apartment buildings which are age-restricted.

“First, we did a green deconstruction of a building that was full of asbestos and decontaminated the soil where the transmission station had been. Then we built a 90-unit complex for seniors with a community center—all LEED-certified—and a community garden.

“Within two months of breaking ground the number of tenants on our waiting list was twice the number of apartments available. Now we’re planning a second phase.”

Rewarding as it is, Reinsma said the work requires lots of patience. The process of reclamation can be slow, and people sometimes yell at him in city council meetings.

“I take an open-book approach. I say, ‘Yes, we make money on this project. Here’s how much. But we also do this because we believe we have a calling to be good stewards of resources given to us, to reclaim and restore what has been broken.’ Reformed theology through and through. And people resonate with it.”