Paula Peters The Arts District Manager

You could say that Paula Peters is one of those lucky people who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was intelligent and experienced to boot.

When she showed up in late 1983 at the office of the Central Business District Association (now the Central Dallas Association) to interview former president Jim Cloar about his experience with downtown revitali-zation, her intent was to use the information for a book she was co-authoring. Instead, she recalls with a grin, Cloar began interviewing her for the job of organizing and managing the Arts District’s three associations, which include property owners, arts leaders and the public.

“There had to be a neutral host, like the CDA, for the three organizations,” Peters says. “The city was not the likely candidate for that because, quite frankly, it would have been political. And if it had been any one of the private property owners or any one of the arts groups, there might have been a competitive feeling and it might not have come together.” At 35, she is no novice at dealing with “political wars,” as she puts it, because of her experience in working for the City of Hillsboro to revitalize its central business district and working for the state-run Texas Historical Commission. “I have this sense that the way to avoid political controversy is to be effective politically. And to be effective politically is to be straightforward. That way, there is no question about your goals and aspirations.”

Peters has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas and has completed work toward a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University. She spends about 80 percent of her time at the CDA trying to predict what is going to happen next in the Arts District and keeping the public interested in what she describes as a 20-year dream. Her job necessarily calls for her to work closely with some of the most prominent arts people in Dallas, such as Henry Gilchrist, Judy Nix, Vincent Carrozza and Harry Parker.

“I think it is remarkable how quickly you can move up in this city. When your bosses (at the CDA) are the heads of 25 major downtown corporations, you start moving with the right crowd,” she says.

Despite her enthusiasm, Peters obviously keeps her job in perspective and says that she’s not the only one putting out strong efforts to see the Arts District succeed. She adds that she’ll miss working closely with Cloar, who left the CDA in March to head the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. Cloar has a reputation as an outstanding mediator and manager. “I guess if there is something I would say about Jim, it’s that he taught me that it is what you know, not who you know.”


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