Leave it to Chad Huntington, also known as Urbanized at OKC Talk, to write up an even better explanation of what Jane Jenkins brings as the new president of Downtown OKC Inc.
And at the request of Pete, the beloved owner of OKC Talk, let me also point out that Chad’s comments have spurred most of the board members to take a much more positive take on Jenkins’ upcoming arrival.
Here’s what Chad had to say:
Something is being missed when discussing her role at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The national Trust is not just a watchdog agency that tries to protect old buildings. The national Main Street movement was created and is overseen by the National Trust. The Oklahoma Main Street Program -which by the way is one of the top two or three state programs in the country – deals directly with the Fort Worth office that Jane previously ran.
Main Street’s “Four Point Approach” to downtown redevelopment is exactly the model that most downtowns, regardless of size, should use to successfully redevelop their downtowns. Downtown redevelopment was pioneered by Main Street. The Four Point Approach is easy to replicate, regardless of circumstance, and is the most proven method for downtown revitalization. It doesn’t necessarily require a Main Street affiliation, and in fact Jane is perhaps one of the most qualified people in the United States to manage a similar approach without the direct guidance of Main Street.
And for those of you who think Main Street itself is too “small town,” you need only look at the success that Automobile Alley has had, much of which can be attributed to its Main Street program status in the late ’90s. Further, it needs to be pointed out that Boston, MA and Portland OR, among others, are loaded with successfull urban Main Street programs.
Although I had limited interaction with Jane when I was the director of Automobile Alley, I know people who have worked with her closely, who were pleasantly surprised and maybe even a bit amazed that we landed her in OKC.
Let me tell you a little story about downtown redevelopment organizations, and why you shouldn’t judge their effectiveness by the size of their city. Back in 2000, during the five minutes or so when I served as the Director of Marketing for DOKC, I attended the IDA annual meeting in Los Angeles. It was an absolute who’s who of downtown revitalization. The keynote speaker on the last day was Bill Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis. He was mayor during Indy’s dramatic reinvention of the 1970s, 1980s and early ’90s, which incidentally was indirectly a major catalyst for MAPS.
While I was at that conference, I spent time with downtown people from Seattle, the Los Angeles Fashion District, the Times Square (NYC) business improvement district, downtown Milwaukee, and I could go on and on. Care to guess who most commanded and held the attention of all of these heavy-hitters? Des Moines. That’s right, Des Moines. A city of less than 200,000. Their downtown folks were the presenters of many of the conference sessions, and I sat in and watched people from New York, Milwaukee and Seattle, among others, hang on every word and eagerly ask them questions. There was zero – ZERO – big-city ego apparent, or indications that people were thinking “I can’t learn anything from people who come from a town smaller than my own.”
My point is only that downtown redevelopment follows set, very basic rules. Rules that can be applied across the board, no matter where the downtown is, no matter its size. Do I think Jane would have been a good hire if she jumped straight from Pawhuska to OKC? Of course not. But the fact of the matter is that she is – according to her own peers who have twice voted her the chair of the IDA – one of the most qualified downtown professionals in the country. That’s good enough for me.
I have often thought one of the dangers we face regarding downtown Oklahoma City is arrogance. That is, the success of MAPS and the uniqueness of its format (large group of projects, dedicated sales tax, no debt, quick transformation) has taken us from not believing in ourselves or our downtown at all to believing that we are the only people doing this. Downtown revitalization began long before Oklahoma City jumped on the bandwagon, and we still have a lot to learn.
There is no question that we have made some amazing gains that have drawn the attention and envy of other cities, but there is a reason, for instance, that the OKC Chamber took a benchmarking trip last year to Charlotte instead of the other way around. We’re still learning how to do this. The fact that for the first time we have looked outside the community and sought out a highly-respected and accomplished downtown specialist is a huge thing. I just hope we give her the autonomy she will need and hear out the new approaches she will undoubtedly suggest, all with a collective open mind.