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.

11 comments on “DowntownDallas Annual Meeting: The Recap

  1. I’m glad you cleared that up about the “sexy slides,” Tim. I thought he said “thighs.”

  2. Lee was amusing describing everything she does on the iPhone without ever mentioning the word “Google”. And she is clearly the only person you uses (or has heard of) yp.com.

    I wasn’t impressed with the new logo, and I share your inability to describe how strange and awkward the “unveiling” was.

    I was going to point out that Wick evidently conceded that he wasn’t part of the “creative class” until it was clear from context that their use of the term meant young, feckless, gen Y types. The big problem with selling downtown to this “creative class” is that they’re nomadic and always looking for the new thing, with no loyalty to the old thing. Their places will not be like Terilli’s, where the same people keep going for years.

    You got olives? I got gypped! (are we allowed to say “gypped” these days?)

  3. 1. Considering it was at the Sheraton, I was very pleased with the food and level of service.
    2. Instead of talking about the excitement of downtown, how about a narrated video presentation of the performing arts center, Booker T. Washington, One Arts, Woodall Rodgers deck park, Main Street Gardens, Joule Hotel, Mercantile, etc.? I bet Crawford could convince Robert Decherd to have WFAA produce the video with John McCaa narrating. Better yet, why not profile 2-3 downtown residents?
    3. A large portion of the audience misheard Wick’s “sexy slides” comment as “sexy slacks”, hence the uncomfortable laughter.

  4. Thanks for the comments and for coming out today! Yes, there was an A/V malfunction with the logo unveiling – apparently practice doesn’t always make perfect. But we are greatly appreciative to Wick and the panelists for a program that less than 10 people walked out early on (yes, I counted!). Anyone who is a regular at these non-profit lunches knows what a feat that is.
    A few more of my thoughts are posted on our blog at downtowndallas.wordpress.com.

    And Snarkman – we had a great video done for last year’s event to your point..email us if you’d like a copy.

    Keep the feedback coming!

  5. Less than 10 walked out early on? Really? 5 from our table left early; I only stuck around to the bitter end because a rode with a guy that was sitting up front. Well, not a bitter end, just kind of a lethargic thanks for coming.

  6. If Tim weren’t usually asleep (read: passed out) by 9 pm on Saturday nights, he would see just how packed Main Street is on the weekends. Reminds me of Deep Ellum in the early ’90s. Now, very few *other* streets places are, so, yes, point taken.

    Tim also neglected to point out how he creeped out every female there with his stalker ‘stache. Pretty sure Stacie Adams from the DSO used her “To Catch a Predator” iPhone app immediately after seeing him.

  7. I wonder if the food was sourced from the Farmers market — might have made a good plug for the market.

  8. @Eric Celeste: I have a riposte to your comment about what time I typically retire for the evening. If you take 10 seconds, you can probably imagine what it is. I will refrain from issuing said riposte in exchange for three beers. Pleasure doing business with you.

  9. Hey Friends at D -

    Just a heads up that this is an outgrowth of what Ray Nasher and other great leaders were working towards 25 and 30 years ago – and by the way, if you are interested in new metrics, Business Council for the Arts (founded by Mr. Nasher and other said leaders) and Deloitte will be publishing the 2010 Economic Impact of Arts and Culture in North Texas early this summer.