I am writing this to express my personal opinion and not as an officer of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID), although admittedly a significant amount of my opinions and knowledge have been shaped through my eight years of service on the CBID board and/or committees, complemented by nearly 17 years of residence downtown and 13 years of employment downtown.
I am very troubled by Michael Haynes' column ["CBID's Priorities," Shot of Urban] in the Jan. 28, 2010 Metro Pulse for numerous reasons. First and foremost is the fact that Mr. Haynes has not attended any CBID board meeting to hear firsthand both board discussion and public comment on the components of the CBID's Strategic Plan draft. Please note that CBID board meetings are open to the public, well publicized, and held at the Knoxville Chamber, which is less than a five minute walk from the Metro Pulse offices. As a matter of fact, during my four-year tenure as a CBID board member, I do not recall ever seeing Mr. Haynes at a CBID meeting. Had Mr. Haynes attended the December 2009 meeting, he would have had the opportunity to speak in support of a dedicated retail recruiter, the removal of which from the strategic plan he so strongly laments. His would have been the sole voice of support from any stakeholder group other than developers and property owners in need of securing tenants for their buildings. In fact, had he attended the meeting he would have heard at least two individuals in this developer/retail property owner group specifically speak in opposition of a CBID-funded retail recruiter. Absent adequate support, the board acted responsibly in dialing back that particular component of the plan. We also removed the "One Voice" strategy from the plan in light of less than enthusiastic response, though with less passionate public input and debate.
Additionally troubling to me is the generally pessimistic tone regarding CBID's efforts post-Mast General's success and the implied lack of CBID focus on retail recruitment. CBID has tenaciously pursued a variety of creative options to support retail recruitment for years. These are not necessarily swiftly moving changes because we have adhered to the proper due diligence that is crucial to ensure the legalities of new programs and initiatives while maintaining a blend of activities that support the needs and wants of all stakeholders. I am convinced that the careful evaluation, research, and discussion of new ideas that has been the culture of CBID's proceedings is quite appropriate and, as someone who has personally contributed to the CBID assessment pool since 1993, I appreciate those circumspect deliberations with the input of its committees, stakeholders, and contractors.
Perception can be a self-fulfilling prophecy ("perception is reality"), hence my determination in correcting what I feel is misrepresentation. I heartily agree that downtown is nowhere close to fulfilling its potential and we have much hard work left to do. I do believe, however, that we are headed in the right direction and have been for some time.
Inherently an op-ed column represents a columnist's opinion, but somehow it just doesn't ring true or right to me to use the power of the press to advance personal opinions that have been developed in a vacuum of engagement in a process in which public comment has been so vigorously sought. With the power of a voice in a publication with a weekly circulation of 35,000 comes more responsibility than Mr. Haynes seems to have employed before reaching, and publicizing, his conclusions.