Enriching the Development Community

May 10, 2019

The very first person I met when I came to town to interview for my position with the Chamber’s Downtown Initiative was Jessica Adams, co-owner of Vagabond Pizza. Jessica had been one of more than 1,200 community members and downtown stakeholders who had been deeply engaged in vision-casting for our downtown, prior to my arrival.

During that two-minute conversation, I was sold on Downtown Abilene. Things were happening. Businesses were excited. Projects were coming.

Within a couple of months of accepting the position, I began telling people, ‘I think we’re going to hit a tipping point a lot sooner than most people realize.’

What Jessica had described to me was being played out. There was a solid group of (mostly) young, ambitious dreamers who were moving their ideas forward. There was what seemed a movement afoot, driven by the private sector in partnership with local government. Among the priorities was to encourage downtown living, an important element in creating “rooftops” and critical mass to help convert our central business district to an 18-hour a day experience.

When I began calling on my network of multifamily housing developers to visit Abilene, I knew I couldn’t lose focus on the local development community. So, when the first guy flew in from North Carolina, I brought them together. The locals shared their vision for Downtown Abilene, and the “outsider” shared his model of layered, tax credit financing of multimillion-dollar projects.

What impressed me was that every single person I had invited (16 of them, I believe) attended that first gathering. We agreed to continue meeting informally, but regularly, to share visions, ideas and information.

Being a fan of acronyms, I dubbed this loose-knit group ADOBI…Abilene Developers, Owners of Business and Investors. We started a Facebook Group, where we share articles that inspire us. A small group of us visited Oklahoma City to meet with developers and downtown professionals there. We gather to visit with visiting consultants and developers.

You can ask them, but I think what keeps this group coming back together is the camaraderie and the notion that they’re not dreaming up these ideas alone. Others share their vision and are actively working to build a better downtown. A sense of “we’re all in this together.”

The Downtown Initiative, in partnership with the Abilene Preservation League, has just launched a workshop series called “Best Practices in Adaptive Reuse” to add value to these relationships and to provide technical information about redevelopment to a wider audience that might not know the ADOBI Group yet.

Our first luncheon, themed ‘Building Project Equity with Historic Tax Credits’, was attended by 25 people and featured expert presenters from Austin and New Orleans. It was encouraging to see some new faces and to learn about some new projects in the works downtown.

Future workshops will feature Abilene’s Bill Noonan of Parkhill, Smith, Cooper, speaking on MEP Considerations in Adaptive Reuse Projects on May 29. On June 19, David Wanzer with Pivot Partners in Oklahoma City, Okla., will share some of his projects and describe his process of “Envisioning New Uses for Old Buildings.” Sarah Jane Blankenship will come up from Austin on July 10 to tell us the “Do’s and Don’ts of Painting Historic Brick.” Finally, Abilenian Matt Robinson with Lone Star Electric will tell us about “Architectural Lighting: Big Dividends for Small Dollars” on July 31.

Spearheaded by the proposed convention headquarters hotel, the downtown development pipeline has grown to over $100 million, and there’s plenty of room for more. If you’re actively working on a business idea or real estate project downtown and want to be a part of the ADOBI Group, send me an email, request to join us on Facebook or register for a workshop.

There is much momentum in our downtown, an area important to the Chamber because of its role as an economic barometer for our entire city. This critical first-impression of our city can make the difference whether someone or a company decides to invest here.  And ultimately to the Chamber, it’s an important resource asset for attracting and retaining the workforce needed to help us secure new industry, expand our tax base and create jobs and capital investment for all of Abilene.

Reach Steve Dieterichs by email at steve@downtownabi.com, and find the Downtown Initiative on Facebook at www.facebook.com/downtownabitx.com.

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