Resignation to bring change to downtown leadership

Harry Weiss
Harry Weiss

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Harry Weiss, an administrator who for more than three years has overseen development efforts in downtown Grand Junction, expects to soon leave for a new job in Louisiana.

An improvement district that promotes downtown businesses was renewed and a project to renovate and expand the historic Avalon Theater was completed during  his tenure. But challenges remain, Weiss said, among them efforts to bring more housing to downtown and further diversify the area.

Weiss resigned as executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and Business Improvement District effective May 22.

Weiss said he’s accepted a new position as vice president of urban revitalization and development with One Acadiana based in Lafayette, La. What was once the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has evolved into a regional economic development organization for a nine-parish area in southern Louisiana.

Weiss said the DDA board of directors plans to review the needs and structures of the DDA and BID before deciding how to proceed with new leadership. What Weiss described as a “mini retreat” is scheduled for April 23 to start that process.

Les Miller, chairman of the DDA board said, “Harry Weiss provided a level of creative and strategic thinking to the executive director’s position that will be difficult to replace. I know the board wishes him every success in his new venture.”

Weiss said he wasn’t looking for a new position, but became interested nonetheless in the efforts of One Acadiana and his potential role with the organization.

A campaign raised $15 million to fund a five-year initiative to develop and implement strategies to revitalize the region, improve infrastructure and attract business and industry development, he said.

Weiss said he’ll initially focus on urban revitalization and development in Lafayette, a city of about 125,000.

But Weiss said he’ll also work with other cities and towns in the region and serve as a point person for various efforts. “It’s really neatly aligned with a lot of the work I’ve done over the years.”

Before joining the DDA in November 2011, Weiss  worked  for more  than 20 years in downtown development and historic preservation in Asheville, a city of about 80,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Weiss worked for 10 years as urban projects director for Public Interest Projects, a private business and real estate development firm that invests in downtown projects. For 10 years before that, he served as executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County and was involved in the redevelopment of historic properties.

In Grand Junction, Weiss administered the DDA, an organization that uses what’s called tax increment financing to fund capital improvement projects that maintain and promote a viable downtown business district. A ballot measure approved in 2011 allows the DDA to issue bonds for a total of up to $65 million over 20 years to finance projects.

Meanwhile, the Business Improvement District imposes an assessment on commercial property downtown to fund advertising, special events and other promotions. The Grand Junction City Council voted in December year to renew the BID for another 20 years.

Weiss said a lot of the work of the DDA and BID over the past three years has involved coping with the effects of an economic downturn and slow recovery as well as planning the lays the groundwork for future development.

But the DDA also played a key role, he said, in a project to renovate and expand the Avalon Theater downtown. By offering $3 million up front to help fund the project, the DDA was able to convince the Grand Junction City Council to earmark an additional $3 million as well as encourage funding from other sources, Weiss said. “We needed to be a catalyst.”

The nearly $10 million project was completed in September and included the addition of a multipurpose room and rooftop terrace, new and additional seating and improvements to acoustics and audio-visual equipment.

Meanwhile, though, housing remains an essential need to further diversify downtown, Weiss said.

The issue is a challenging one, he said, because little housing is available in the core of downtown and market economics make it difficult to construct multi-family housing there. Survey results indicate there’s interest in living downtown. But it’s a question of turning potential demand into aactual development, Weiss said. “Those are the dominoes that have to fall.”

There’s also room for additional commercial development downtown, Weiss said.