DowntownDallas Annual Meeting: The Recap

The annual meeting of the DowntownDallas organization, the folks who helped you find your D Spot, just concluded at the Sheraton. Our fearless leader, Wick Allison, moderated a panel at the luncheon. I’ll give you a recap (at great personal risk) if you’ll be kind enough to jump.

Before we continue, I must say this: I’m onboard with downtown. When we moved our company here in October, I was thrilled. I continue to enjoy it, and I learn something new about the place nearly every week. Working and drinking down here, I feel like part of the city in a way I haven’t for the 30-plus years I’ve lived here. Too, I will tell you that I went to this annual luncheon about five years ago, and I think about 150 people attended. Maybe 200. Today there were more than 1,000 folks gathered at the Sheraton. In short: it is happening. As DowntownDallas prez and CEO John Crawford said several times at today’s gig, downtown is now Dallas’ future, not its past.

Yes, however, and but. On the walk back to the office, one of our group (who shall remain nameless) asked, “So what was all that about again?” The meeting could have provided a bit more food for thought (I’m so fired). I’ll suggest in a second what I think ought to happen at the next meeting. But first: the recap.

— Dr. Joseph Clifford from First Presbyterian Church Dallas led the invocation, which was a poem by ee cummings. I sensed that many in attendance were nonplussed. But I give Clifford high marks for taking a risk. I think it worked.

— Let’s do the food, for those who are interested. Salad: sliced beefsteak tomato, Dallas mozzarella, crisp greens, arugula, kalamata olives, croutons, pesto basil vinaigrette. Main course: sauteed chicken breast with mushroom demi, pan-seared sea bass; asparagus, baby carrots, squash, red peppers; Parmesan risotto. Dessert: chocolate bourbon pecan tart. I’ve had worse. The service was prompt.

— Shelle Sills, the VP and GM of Neiman Marcus Downtown, presented the Chair’s Award to Tim Headington, the billionaire oilman who built the Joule and who has bought several other buildings downtown. Headington couldn’t be there to accept the award. He is also in the film business and is overseas working on a production. Plus, he’s too rich to each rubbery chicken breast. So they aired a short video of Sills interviewing Headington about his involvement in downtown real estate. Sample of Sills’ line of questioning: “Tim, you are so awesome. Why are you so awesome?”

— They unveiled a new logo for DowntownDallas. Kudos to Weber Shandwick. The new one is a big improvement over the old one. For now, you’ll have to trust me on this. They haven’t put it up on their site yet. (The unveiling was awkward in a way that I can’t describe in print.)

— Then the panel broke out. Wick moderated the remarks of: Lori Lee, senior VP of customer care at AT&T; Ken Luce, president of several things at Weber Shandwick; and Jim Weber, CMO of Comerica Bank. The topic of the panel was the creative class and how downtown is attracting same. Ken Luce admitted that he didn’t want to move his company downtown but that having done so, he’s found it has helped him recruit talent. Wick said that he’d found the same to be true since we moved downtown nine months ago. This cause sniggering at the D Magazine table, because, as stated above, we moved in October. Maybe he’s using a Mayan calendar? Wick plugged FrontBurner and FrontRow. Then Lori Lee busted out a slide show featuring the iPhone and how it has changed her life. She talked about how, when she moved here from San Antonio, she used her iPhone to find theater tickets and places to drink and how she downloaded an app that performed retinal surgery on her dog. Essentially, she snuck a pretty good iPhone commercial into the proceddings. Clever woman. Zac leaned over to me and said, “She should be wearing a black turtleneck and sneakers.”

— Lori Lee mentioned the wine bar Swirll, on Main Street, as an example of all the “action” in downtown Dallas and how, when she used her iPhone, Swirll ought to be able to geo-locate her and offer her two-for-one drinks if she’s searching for a place to drink. Swirll got mentioned about four other times by the other panelists, too. In my book, that makes the iPhone and Swirll the big “earned media” winners at the luncheon.

— Wick ended the chat by thanking the panelists and then, when the AV guy was probably about to turn off the mics, turning to Lori Lee and saying, “I love your sexy slides.” This produced a confused silence of about 5.3 seconds. History has shown us that many brilliant minds were initially misunderstood when they showed us their genius. That was the case here. (Trying to save my job.)

Now then. About all that “action” downtown. You know when you’re going to a meeting thrown by DowntownDallas that you’re in for some good, old-fashioned boosterism. But there was too much talk of action. To anyone who drove in for the meeting from beyond the city’s center and who has spent a Friday evening walking around downtown Dallas (!), much of what was said from the podium today surely came off as flapdoodle. There are times, to be sure, when there is action downtown: on nights when there’s something going on at the Performing Art Center, when the NBA All-Star game is in town. But we’re still a long way from being where we all want to be.

Toward that end, I suggest that at next year’s confab DowntownDallas throws down a discussion about what needs to happen next. Come up with 10 ideas. Tackle em. Have your smart people get up onstage and address em. Should we do away with all those damn one-way streets? Is there any way to widen the sidewalks? What about that proposed second set of DART tracks through downtown? Should we make parking more or less convenient? And so on.

All due respect to my boss, next time we get 1,000 people in a room who all care about downtown Dallas, let’s have something to show for our effort.

Thank you. And if you have a job for me, send me a note through LinkedIn.

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