Miami's downtown development director resigns; agency may redefine focus
By Paola Iuspa
Miami's Downtown Development Authority will be launching a search for a new leader - one likely to fill a revised job description after an abrupt resignation by Executive Director Patti Allen.
After seven years of running the agency, Ms. Allen submitted a letter of resignation Friday to authority Chairman and Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton, said Alonso Menendez, acting executive director. Ms. Allen has not been at work since.
Her action comes four months after Commissioner Winton became chairman. The authority chair is a city commissioner appointed by the commission and serves indefinitely.
Mr. Winton said Tuesday he would name a committee to define the director's qualifications and draft a new job description.
"We need someone with superb communications and management skills," he said. "We would be better off hiring a damn good manager and thinker" than searching nationwide for a development-zone expert.
"If you look at the downtown central business district, it is still a mess," he said. "The DDA needs to be much more aggressive in filling in the gaps where we have gaps."
The 15-member group represents downtown business and property owners to promote development. Members are appointed. A staff of nine, including the executive director, fills paid positions.
Commissioner Winton said he wants the group to be more involved in the area's many redevelopment initiatives - from renovating Bicentennial Park to completing a downtown transportation master plan now under way.
Mr. Winton took over as chairman of the authority four months ago when he replaced former commissioner Wifredo Gort, who had stepped down to run an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
Mr. Gort, who headed the group for six years and now acts occasionally as an outside consultant, said Commissioner Winton wants to take the authority to another level and needs an executive director with another set of qualifications.
"He may be looking for a person with more experience in a more technical field," such as economic development and planning, Mr. Gort said.
Ms. Allen's strength, he said, was in marketing and selling downtown to developers.
Under her leadership, Mr. Gort said, the Downtown Development Authority was focused on bringing housing downtown, developing Park West near the performing arts center site and building a charter school downtown.
"All those goals were achieved with her," he said.
Before being hired by the Downtown Development Authority, Ms. Allen was responsible for international business development statewide for Citibank Florida and prior to that had been executive director of the Miami Downtown Business Association and marketing director of Bayside Marketplace.
Most recently, she had been earning $95,000 a year as the DDA's executive director.
Commissioner Tomas Regalado, not a member of the agency, said he was not surprised by Ms. Allen's resignation. He said his office earlier this year received a copy of Ms. Allen's resume. She was applying for the job of Miami's real estate and economic development director, he said. That job was filled Jan 7.
Ms. Allen did not return two phone calls this week to her cellular phone seeking comment.
The development authority meets Friday morning where they take official action on Ms. Allen's letter of resignation. Members said they plan to hire a search firm to help fill the executive director's position.
Overall Ms. Allen did a good job, said Sergio Rok, authority member and owner of 17 commercial properties.
"But downtown is at a stage where we need to move beyond what we accomplished in the past."
The authority was created in 1966 to promote, initiate and help public and private projects within the central business district plus the Brickell area, downtown Miami, Uptown, Park West, Overtown and the Media & Entertainment District. Most of those areas have shown growth in recent years, but at widely varying rates.
The Downtown Development Authority, Mr. Rok said, now needs to address issues that still "force developers to look elsewhere." Some concerns are security, safety, lighting, infrastructure improvements and tax incentives, said Mr. Rok, who is in the process of converting a historic office building into a market-rate condominium, the downtown's first project of its kind.
"We have done some of it," he said. "But we need to do more if we want to be successful."