Lyons, who started at the job Dec. 5, is making a point of talking with everyone who might be able to help him get a handle on the city and what’s happening here these days. He figures it will all help him do a better job as he takes an increasingly active role at the nearly 50-year-old public design and development agency.
For those who don’t know, CCDC was set up to stave off empty storefronts and vacant lots, and instead use planning, management, and other means to steer investment toward the downtown areas it covers. In CCDC’s strategic plan, which runs from 2005 to 2015, the agency identified economic development in downtown Boise as a priority.
It’s too early in his tenure for Lyons to talk about his own goals for the CCDC or for the three urban renewal districts that the agency oversees.
But in a conversation last week, I couldn’t help asking Lyons how he’ll approach his new job. Boise’s downtown is stocked with stores and restaurants, but when it comes to economic development, the area could still use some help.
I asked Lyons if he knew he’d just missed tackling the problem of the Boise Hole. Lyons said he’d heard while interviewing for his job about the rebar-blighted corner that has sat empty on 8th and Main since 1987. He declined to say what he’d heard.
“What I know is that we have today and we have tomorrow we hope, and we need to make wonderful things happen,” said the elusive Lyons. “It’s great to know the history of something, but it’s also great to know the possibilities of something… and it’s even better to get something achieved.”
Fine, because CCDC still has plenty of complex challenges ahead – including talk of a new urban renewal district around 30th and Main Streets. Lyons didn’t let himself be drawn into a conversation about that one, either.
Instead, he talked about how he developed an early interest in public service from his civic-minded grandfather, a Manchester, N.H., radio entrepreneur who helped out community organizations and friends. As for Lyons’ interest in business… that started in high school, and got some encouragement from an early venture in prepaid phone cards and gift cards.
Lyons said it was around 2000 that he decided to enter the public sector.
“I just wanted to do something more soulful,” he said.
That meant a job in economic development for Claremont, N.H.., a city with a surfeit of abandoned 19th-century textile mills and a 35-acre Brownfields site identified as contaminated by the Environment Protection Agency. Lyons is proud of his role in filling those mill buildings with restaurants and other businesses and turning the 35 acres into a park.
Then it was off to the university town of Gainesville, Fla., for Lyons. He listed some major accomplishments from his three-year stay there, including the creation of housing that was specifically targeted at student entrepreneurs, but noted he didn’t care for that region’s decentralized nature. He said he preferred Boise’s compact, walker-friendly downtown.
Lyons took pains to emphasize that he’s not a planner himself. In fact, he balks at the idea of defining what it is he does. He’d rather say what he likes.
“I like to … help things reach their potential,” he said. “I can cut through the clutter to zero in on that aspect that will make something blossom, and often have the ability to go figure out how to get it done.”
Great! In Boise, it will be interesting to see how cutting through the clutter plays out in the case of the proposed baseball stadium; in straightening out the city’s one-way grid; or in expanding the city’s convention center offerings.
I asked Lyons if he’s patient. I assume you have to be, in his line of work.
“It’s all relative,” he said. “Everybody and everything goes at a certain pace. Some projects just are going to take longer than others… so you wait.”
Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.