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Why You Need to Know Kourtny Garrett

The incoming CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc. takes the reins as the city's urban core looks for ways to continue growth.
By Olivia Nguyen |
Why You Need to Know Her:

Because next year, she’ll take the reins of what is effectively downtown Dallas’ chamber of commerce, replacing longtime leader John Crawford, who’s stepping into a vice chairman role. Garrett, who has been with the nonprofit organization for 14 years, ascends to the top post right as the urban core looks for ways to continue the growth it has seen in new tenants and residents. The city also is in the middle of a debate over whether a light rail extension should be tunneled underground or placed on top of downtown’s surface streets, a method critics say will stifle the very momentum Dallas has seen over the past decade. But these city-center topics are ones that Garrett has spent her 38 years preparing to tackle.

Kourtny Garrett leans back in downtown, which she hopes to make even more livable than it is.
Kourtny Garrett leans back in downtown, which she hopes to make even more livable than it is.

Born to a musician father and working mother in Denver, Colo., the family of three bounced around until settling in the Rowlett/Rockwall area when Garrett was in fifth grade. Even as a young child, she was fascinated by city life. Although she didn’t “understand what that meant at the time,” it became a passion that persists to this day.

In her junior year of high school, Garrett enrolled in a two-week immersion program that took her to Rome. She was completely enthralled , exploring every corner of the ancient city. I had “that feeling in my gut, and my heartbeat was racing,” she says, “I just knew cities were my passion.”

Garrett continued to find opportunities to visit different cities while attending Austin College in Sherman. She studied abroad in London and fell in love with its design, architecture, and culture. After graduating with a degree in communications, she took an entry-level post at Southlake Town Square. Although it was a marketing job, Garrett also learned about urban planning and development.

She put that knowledge to work when she joined Downtown Dallas Inc. as senior vice president of marketing. The nonprofit organization works to promote and improve 15 separate districts in the urban core, including Deep Ellum, the Design District, South Side, and the historic West End.

Garrett soon added planning to her repertoire, gaining experience by serving on the board of the International Downtown Association. “That was my training ground,” she says.

To help add a more “technician point-of-view,” Garrett enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2010 to pursue a master’s in urban affairs, combining economic development, economic policy, and planning. But she believes nothing can replace gut feelings. “If you have it,” she says, “the instinct is usually always right.”

Garrett spends time meeting with executives interested in moving downtown, with developers working on projects in the core, and with leaders of companies that already operate in the central business district. Her work often involves bringing together multiple stakeholders and keeping conversations on track.

Garrett also manages programs that range from cleaning and safety initiatives to Downtown Dallas 360, a strategic plan developed in 2011 that focuses on housing, transportation, parks and open space, and design. The plan is currently being revised, due to the city’s rapid evolution during the past five years. Garrett says she’ll be here to see it through. Her travels have tempted her, but the Farmers Market-area resident says Dallas is home, and she’s passionate about her work to help make the city more livable.

“One of my favorite quotes is from planner Jane Jacobs that states, ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,’” Garrett says. “Think about the cities that you love—you can send your kids off to school, shop, work, and play. What I think makes a true, vibrant area is that it’s multi-dimensional.

“That’s what I want to see [in Dallas],” Garrett continues. “And I think with this recent evolution, we are definitely getting there.”

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