What’s your biggest challenge right now? 

I would say the biggest challenge that we have right now is finding spots that can work with certain retailers that you want down here (on Water Street). A lot of Augusta downtown was formerly used as department stores. But finding uses for those larger spaces means finding ways to convince the landlords to chop them up into smaller spaces so that we could get more tenants down here. So, finding suitable spaces. I need suitable spaces. We have a big demand for restaurants down here, and a lot of the spaces aren’t set up for that. So trying to figure out ways to incentivize people that want to do a restaurant, figure out how they can make it affordable to do a hood system — to do things like that.

What influenced you to do this kind of work?

I’ve always had a passion for architecture as a kid and I always leaned more toward historic architecture more than anything else.  I have a master’s degree in communications and I got my second master’s degree in architectural conservation. So this sort of job, even though it doesn’t involve constant communication or constant involvement with historic architecture, it sort of blends both of them together along with other facets. It’s different than a lot of people that do architectural conservation. They go into actual conservation work, which is very scientific, and you’re breaking it down, using certain chemicals to do restoration work. That part of it never interested me. It’s sort of inspiring to actually be in a job where I can work with historic architecture but also see it, adapted to reuse and see the progress along the way.

How do you foster creativity in yourself and in your board members? 

The No. 1 way is I never say no to any idea outright. I try and figure out a way that we can make it work. I always encourage our board members to come up with new ideas. If they see something that’s going on in another community that’s working there, bring it here. Let’s see if we could do it, and let’s see if we could do it even better. So, I think what’s important is always just listening to a lot of people. A lot of it comes from research on what’s working in other communities and seeing what we could adapt here.

What is the role of failure in all of that? 

There’s always a degree of failure in anything that you might do. But I would say you could learn from failure as best as you can and try and improve upon it the next time.

You could have 99 successes and one failure, and you’re going to dwell on that one failure. But that one failure is going to teach you more than those 99 successful things that you had. We’ve had events that have been like Halloween where we get 6,500 people, 7,000 people. It’s great. We’ve had events where you maybe have 50 people come. The important thing I think  in a case like that is to, especially in this role, always to keep people’s spirits up. A good friend of mine actually a while back said, you know, when you crumble in a situation like that, and there are volunteers that have committed their time and, are trying to make something, you can’t show it to them because it makes them feel like they wasted their time when you’re getting paid for it.

We’ve had lots and lots of successes  here at the Augusta Downtown Alliance. What we learn from the failures that we’ve had (is) keeping cool, keeping calm and reevaluating after it’s done. What did we do wrong? What could we do better next time? And taking a more logical rather than emotional approach to it. And it’s sometimes hard to separate the logical and the emotional.  And that is one of the difficulties, especially in when you feel like you’re not only letting down your organization but letting down the people that volunteered for it as well.

Where will the Augusta Downtown Alliance be in five years?

I am hoping that by that point, the vacancy rate, which is now hovering somewhere between 30% and 40%, is hovering somewhere between 5% and 10%, which is an average for most downtowns. At the Augusta Downtown Alliance, we play an intermediary role between the city and in the merchants. I’d like to see that grow with the next five years.

(I would like to see it take on) a more creative role. What can we do to make everything bigger and better than what we have already? Right now, we’re doing so much between organizing events and recruiting businesses to come in, working with landlords on this, doing design teams and our focus is a little scattered.

So to be at that point, at a 5% to 10% vacancy rate, everything is going well. Everything is a well-oiled machine. We’ve got things down. How do we grow what we’ve got at that point? Taking on a more creative role, and I’m seeing growing everything through that creativity.