Interview: DDI Talks with Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax

Downtown Dallas, Inc. recently sat down with newly-named City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who started in the job back in January after several years as City Manager in Tacoma, Washington.  Read the full transcript below, and watch the video by clicking here.

DDI: You’ve had some time on the job now. Give us a sense of what your thoughts were going into it and what the reality has been and how those two things might be similar and different.

TCB: Some of my thoughts coming in, it’s a good thing. It’s measuring up to what I initially thought of Dallas. One, it’s a great city. It’s got great people. The organization is big and I knew it would take some time for me to get up to speed, but the employees have been very receptive to the change in leadership and what I’ve expected from a community as well as a city connection and partnership I think is about where I expected it to be, and it gave me great excitement in some respects because I love to find ways to build bridges and so there’s a lot of opportunity to continue to do that here so I’d say I’ve been pleasantly surprised, but excited about the upside for the city of Dallas.

DDI: Do you feel like you’re starting to get into the groove now as far as staffing and day-to-day stuff and how everything operates?

TCB: I do. I think probably about five months in I started to feel a little more comfortable and really feel like I had a lay of the land. I’m still working to better understand all the interests of my bosses, the city council, and figure out how I can improve my communication to really be better at making sure I’m meeting their needs. I think the time I spent early on out in the community talking to people about city hall and some of the things they’ve been challenged with have really laid the foundation for me as it relates to the things I need to work on. Having the bond program now behind us as it relates to establishment of it, we have to go out and really impart to people what’s in it to their benefit. The budget process is coming to a close and I’m looking forward to executing on the budget document and the plan so I’m excited. I think I’ve kind of hit the ground running a little bit and the pre-time before I started helped out quite a bit.

DDI: What are your priorities as you move forward into the end of this year and the beginning of next?

TCB: One of the number one priorities is to stabilize our public safety systems; police and fire particularly as it relates to recruitment and retention. I think getting to know our fire chief a little better – I haven’t spent a lot of time with him – but I’ve been very impressed with what he’s doing to try to bring our fire department along and modernize some of its practices. I think the recent hire of Chief Hall is something I’m excited about and will go far in, again, stabilizing building on our recruitment efforts and listening to ideas from her about retention. So, public safety and the safety and well-being of this community finding ways to make sure that those two systems are stood up correctly. Another priority is homelessness. A big issue obviously in Downtown; but also in some of the other districts. We’ve got quite a bit of that as well as panhandling, so it’s working with the new office we’ve created, Homeless Solutions, to figure out where the city is situated, how we’re spending our dollars, who our partners are figuring out how we can impact reducing the level of homelessness in the community. And then infrastructure. I think executing on the bond program if it is approved in November will be a big deal to ensure that we deliver and that the projects that we’ve laid out, that we can prioritize those to meet the needs of the districts as well as just being transparent about it so people can understand where we are at all times in the bond program. Beyond that there are some big things that I’d love to consider working on, and that is the establishment of a ten year strategic vision for the city and working with the community to do that. Then, really get a better feel for our land use and zoning on a citywide basis as well as improving our building permitting areas to be more efficient and responsive, particularly given the anticipated growth in this community.

DDI: If the bond is a success, are you excited that there will be the possibility for the citizens to see some of the improvements they’ve been demanding for a while – is that accurate?

TCB: I think so. It’s a big bond program; a little over a billion dollars. About 500 million plus in streets and obviously that’s something that our city council and I hear quite a bit about. It’s making a small dent in some of our deferred maintenance, but our building conditions out in the community especially those public spaces are important and I think we need to do a better job of maintaining those and improving those. Then we have a quite a bit in parks built into this budget, and again, that is what makes communities communities, so I’m excited about what’s in there. I think people will see visibly improvements that many of them have been asking for for quite a long time. I think the process that we undertook to establish the bond program and build on the prior conversations of the city council was very open and gave people an idea not just about what was going on in their district or what was lacking, but it provided perspective for what was going on in the entire city so people could truly see what some of the deficiencies were in other areas, where in fact they thought they had it bad they could look at other areas and see that there needed to be more dollars put there as well.

DDI: You are co-chair of our Downtown Dallas 360 update Steering Committee. How important is it to have strategic plans like that in place as you try to build a thriving urban core?

TCB: It’s very important. I think that plan is a great blueprint for what you need to do, and what you need to be working on continually in your downtown area and I think for the city having a partner like Downtown Dallas Inc. align with our staff and the strategies and the things that we’re working on particularly as we come into contact with other groups externally – but we can always navigate back to a plan – I think is important to us because it keeps us focused, but I think the biggest piece is that we’ve got to continually work together to WORK the plan. A plan is just a plan unless you put it in action. I think beyond just staff work and having conversations we have to put the resources to bear to get there and I think the plan provides that blueprint and I’m focused on ensuring that at least the city lives up to its side of the partnership and my team is aligned around that plan.

DDI: Mobility is one of the most critical issues. Whether it is bike, pedestrian, bus, rail – we just got the news about the DART alignments – so talk about that critical piece of getting people in and out and around the urban core?

TCB: It is important and I think the multi-modal aspects of what you just mentioned are critical. I think we do a good job of sitting back and watching some of the big things that TxDot does, but what’s important to us is, OK, once you leave those major systems how does that integrate with your downtown? One of the things that we’ve done, at least that I’m recommending this year, is the creation of a transpiration department proper in the city to truly focus and drill down on those types of thoughts and discussions and work again with our downtown community and the broader community to figure out how we develop Dallas-centric discussions and focuses on transportation and how all those different modes of transportation come together and we ensure that we’re able to at least speak our voice at a table as it relates to not just reacting to what other people are proposing to do to our transportation systems.

DDI: Now that you’ve been in the urban core working here every day and have actually seen what’s gone on Downtown in the past decade, were you surprised at all at how much progress has taken place?

TCB: I was a little bit; but excited because I think we’ve still got room for a lot more advancement down here. I’ve been excited. It’s been – I won’t say challenging – but being new to navigate because I spend most of my time looking at a GPS, so I’ve got to be cognizant about where I’m going, but I think the progress that’s been made with improvements in transportation as well as just the living and people on the street in our downtown has impressed me, but again, I think there’s a lot more room for improvement if we continually focus on transit orient related development you’ll just see more of it in the city and the heart of the city. Making sure that we’re getting people in and out and there are various opportunities to use different modes of transportation I think we’ll continue in that stead and I think we’ll be fine.

DDI: Is there anything that has stuck out to you that has sparked you to think I’d like to maybe change that or improve that about Downtown?

TCB: You know I’d like to see more people on the street in the evening. I’d like to see us not, in my mind, shut down at 5 or 6 o’clock and I think any city manager would love to see that – now obviously that comes with its own challenges as it relates to people living downtown – but I’d love to see more of that. I would love to see us as a city begin to treat our Downtown more like a neighborhood, and I think we’re doing that. This evening I’m meeting with a group of neighborhoods from Downtown to begin that discussion and begin to treat and have discussions with them similar to our more suburban-type areas in the city. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have that focus that we’ll continue to be able to communicate and work to make sure that the city center is taken care of and cherished.

DDI: We’ve had great gains in residents downtown from 200 to more than 10 thousand now, but talk about the importance because I know it’s a big deal for you of diversity and access to housing in the Downtown area?

TCB: That’s obviously going to be a challenge based just on the economics of land and costs in our downtown, but I think we’ll continue to try to make sure that there is space for that and I know many of our programs, particularly the ones that the city funds, require certain types of levels of housing to be provided and we’ll continue that. I think we’re doing a study now that we entitle the market value analysis that will give us more guidance and ability to allocate our resources more wisely, particularly around the continued development here, but it’s very important and as we see more units I think ensuring that at least many of those units, some of them are affordable I think is going to be key to the success of Downtown.

DDI: Well, and to have more 2 and 3 bedroom units because there are more families here and education has started to come up. Talk about the importance of now that the people are here what you do from that point?

TCB: I haven’t given that THAT much thought, but obviously as the City Manager I probably should be thinking about that, but you’re right the diversity and the size of the dwellings is important and I think we’ve got an Uplift downtown and some things of that nature, so I get a little worried sometimes when I see the little ones out on the sidewalk with all the traffic, but I myself live downtown – I’m in a two bedroom – I wish I had a three bedroom – and so I’m going to be looking for a little larger space and I love all the access to all the things Downtown, not just my  job, but the availability of all the amenities so I think as we start to think about bringing different types of families into our Downtown we have to be cognizant of how they want to live once they get there and I think beyond the living, dwelling – transportation is so key and critical to get people out of their cars in a very dense area I think is important.

DDI: When you’re not in this office, what are some of the things that you’ve enjoyed about being a Downtown resident so far?

TCB: You know I haven’t been able to do THAT much, I typically get off pretty late in the evening. It’s just a little sight-seeing when I go through – I try to drive through different areas of Downtown to be more familiar. My weekends, quite honestly, I try to spend those with my kids, so spending time at the museums and the zoo and other things like that since I’ve been here have been pretty much my life if not watching a lot of those PG movies that come out; so that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing when I’m not at work.

DDI: How many kids — how old?

TCB: I’ve got six year olds and a nine year-old and so I’ve got three little ones and they keep me quite busy. They’re enjoying being here and I’m enjoying the time I get to spend with them but I’ve got to find time to spend more time with them for sure.

DDI: But there are great things to do — the Perot and the Arts District — you don’t have to go far.

TCB: I do not. I enjoy it; again I am struggling with do I ever want to move from outside of the Downtown area, so that’s something I’m going through right now. But I’m enjoying my time here, Downtown is a great space and a place and, again, it can only get better.

DDI: There was a news conference recently regarding bike share and we’ve all seen the bikes that have popped up Downtown; what do you make of that being a kind of creative way to increase mobility.

TCB: I think it’s great, particularly when you see the private sector thriving without government intervention and I know when cities embark upon bike sharing programs you get a lot of strings, you get a lot of things that come with it and a lot of challenges and so it’s been exciting to see that bubble up on its own I think I am still watching; I think our council wants us to have a light touch as it relates to how we approach it  just to see if there are any negative impacts. I think one of my bigger concerns – and I’m always concerned about things – is just making sure that as we grow that industry, and I think it’s very popular and people enjoy it I’ve seen quite a few bikes – is that we don’t’ impede access for those who may be disabled, so that is really my only concern right now. I’m looking forward to working with those companies and working with my staff and council to assess how to continually grow that effort, but again I think that is the excitement of being in a downtown area particularly one that, it may be hot, but people enjoy getting out on their bicycles so I’m excited about it.

DDI: Through attending UNT you had some familiarity with the North Texas area before coming into this job. What was your mindset about Downtown, Uptown – the urban core prior to getting this position.

TCB: You know it’s quite different. It had been a while since I had lived in the area; obviously I went to school here in the early 90s – I came back and visited for a City Manager design academy in 2015 and had a chance to ride around the city and look at many of the things that had gone on in the past 5 to 10 years; Klyde Warren Park, the Arts District, it was pretty eye-opening to see the changes that had occurred downtown and my impression was only improved as it relates to the work that people had put in and the city managers and the councils and the community and when I got here again I was just excited because there’s so much human capital and assets already geared toward making downtown successful and people get it and I guess for me it was just making sure that the city is actively engaged and we’re listening and we’re finding ways to build upon the innovation and the thoughts that people have about what they want their downtown to be and again I’m excited to be here and excited to be the manager.

DDI: Dallas is a lot about partnerships. Talk about from the business community and organizations like DDI how those partnerships have made this what it is now.

TCB: That is one thing that, again, I heard quite a bit about in 2015 when I came. It was those public-private partnerships, it was the philanthropic community, it was the Downtown Dallas Inc’s and the other organizations that have a vested interest in making sure Dallas is successful. The business community has been I think one that I’ve heard has always stepped up when something needs to be done here, so I’ve seen that kind of rallying. I have not met a person yet who – has talked to me who has said I have no agenda, what I want to see is you be successful and Dallas be successful, so what is it I can do for you to help you? And I think that has been the exciting part and there’s a great wealth in this community and I think that there’s a lot of good people with heart for and loving for Dallas and I think that for me I won’t say is different as a city manager, but the overwhelming nature of it and the energy around that I think has really been impressive so there is not one thing in this city that I believe if we really come together and think we need to do that people wouldn’t be standing in line to see how they could help and I think as a city manager that is very very key in showing that you can at least orchestrate how you bring people together to do great things and big things for a city and I think for me as a city manager here I couldn’t be happier or more excited to be sitting here and working in an environment where people want to get better and they know what better is because they’ve seen it and they breathe it and they live it and they want to find ways to work together.

DDI: Do you think these partnerships puts Dallas at an advantage in attracting business?

TCB: I think it does. Just the simple things that I think companies look for whether that’s DFW Airport or Love Field and our access to nonstop flights and can fly pretty much anywhere in the world and proximity to that, I think just our transportation network whether it rail or interstates I think just the overall Metropolitan area and the size of it and diversity of housing and living opportunities beyond the city of Dallas, but I think also just our downtown and the availability and opportunity and just because we’re Dallas in some respect and we’re the big dog it is a magnet for attracting high-quality companies, but I’d say on our part as a city my thought on that is we still have to improve as an organization on how we reach out and touch and the things that we do that impact business – our building and permitting areas and finding ways to be more efficient; our workforce readiness and development aspects, making sure we are on the cutting edge. We have so many colleges and universities in this area that we have to have some considerable thought around how we grow them continually to be putting out and pumping out students that are for the types of businesses that we want to attract and or retain and it’s those types of things that you get to work on as a city manager to figure out how do we see around corners to be ready for opportunities and I think we’re positioned well to do that and we can only find ways to refine how we do it to find ways to attract more and better.

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