Letecia McNatt, the downtown coordinator with the City of Garland sat down with CivicBrand founder, Ryan Short at the recent Texas Downtowns conference to discuss managing downtowns and fostering the relationships between business owners, the city and residents.
Ryan Short: Main Streets and Downtowns are the heart of our communities. It’s never been more important for communities to focus on and reinvest in their downtown. At the recent Texas Downtown’s conference in Georgetown, Texas, we had the chance to catch up with Letecia McNatt, the Downtown Coordinator for the City of Garland. We had a great conversation about what it takes to successfully coordinate with businesses, the city and residents to support and create a thriving Downtown. Enjoy.
Ryan Short: I’m just going to let it roll, and we’ll edit this down and keep it super conversational and see what happens.
Letecia McNatt: Okay. My name is Letecia McNatt. I’m the Downtown Coordinator for the City of Garland. It’s actually a new role for the city altogether as well as a new position for myself. So, I’ll refer back to one of the sessions I was just in. It’s really kind of hard to describe what it is I do in elevator speech, if you will. But I’m essentially the liaison between the business community, the city, the chamber, just trying to connect a lot of energies that are already working quite successfully outside of one another, if you will. And bring them together to implement some projects and really push our Downtown forward in the direction it’s already headed.
Ryan Short: Okay.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah. Cool.
Ryan Short: And then you guys were nominated for a project. Can you tell me about what that category and what specifically you guys were nominated for?
Letecia McNatt: Yeah, we were nominated for the best promotional event for population over 50,000. And our project was the Downtown Dine Around. So, Garland – the interesting thing about Garland in our Downtown specifically is, you know, obviously we’re a first ring suburb of Dallas and a big city with those big city blues, but a lot of folks don’t realize we actually have a very unique and [indiscernible] [00:02:40] a Downtown. It really resonates with that small town feel in a big city. And we have over the last years, a growing local restaurant district, if you will.
So we’ve got 12 locally owned Mom-and-Pop Restaurants, and we worked with the city’s PR firm to bring in six regional or, excuse me, yes, six regional food bloggers from the DFW area to take a food sampling tour of five of those restaurants in Downtown and work with the PR firm to prepare our restaurant owners to provide pretty substantial portions and samples to the bloggers to have the opportunity to really curate the experience and tell their story of how and why they are, where they are, the love that they have for the food that they provide.
And in that event, we actually with 15 people working on the event, or 15 people actually attending the event, 30 if you want to include the restaurants, in a two hour time period, we reached over 23,000 people on social media. And it was like 23,000 engagements. It was a very collaborative effort between the restaurant owners, the city, different departments within the city, our communications department put together a collage video and really pushed the engagement component of that across the finish line. And out of those 23,000 engagements we had online, 95% of them had never engaged with Downtown Garland in any way before. So, we just felt like it couldn’t have been more impactful to expose this hidden gym that we have and to really get people thinking about Downtown Garland and putting it on their belly radar, if you will.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah.
Ryan Short: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing like – obviously, there was a lot of like planning and coordinating, but it’s still a very like organic experience. It’s, hey, come look what we have, experience it and share it.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah, it was really cool. I mean, I had never – I didn’t – I could have never fathom that would have been so successful of an events. It just like sparked an energy in our Downtown I wasn’t prepared for. Just people were so appreciative of the time we put into it beforehand, working with them going through their menu, what they were going to share with the bloggers so that it would photograph really well because one thing I learned through the experience is you can have this incredibly delicious southern homemade dish and if it’s got like a particular type of gravy on it, it might not look so appetizing in a photo.
Ryan Short: You learn all those?
Letecia McNatt: Yeah [overlapping conversation] [00:05:35] yeah, it was cool and I think that our business owners really appreciated that and then gave them the opportunity to kind of step back from their daily grind and do that assessment of looking through the lens of someone else on what you’re providing as a service. And I like to give the example of our local coffee roaster or coffee shop in Downtown the opportunity that it provided for him to tell his story because he’ll tell you even he had his first cup of Taster’s Choice, or his first cup of coffee at age 12, which was Taster’s Choice, and then he didn’t really experience coffee and again until he was 30 years old, and now he owns Rosslyn Coffee Shop (phonetics) and he’s roasting beans in the back. And it’s just, it was neat to see him have the opportunity to tell that story, just the relationship or the experience, if you will, that it provided.
Ryan Short: Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, we do a lot of work with cities and districts and some of those, on some of those projects. We’ve done kind of these accelerator programs where we’re engaging with the business owners and helping the city and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive because like you said, the business owners are so grateful that the city is like investing back in them. They’re learning stuff about how to market and it’s such a win, win because the city is not viewed as just the place you go to complain, but they’re like, we have the same interests, let’s make this a successful place, which means your business has to be successful too.
Letecia McNatt: You’re so right. Like, I just, I think you put it really well like that more than anything is what it just, again, I wasn’t prepared for. And, you know, I’ll even say people were just telling me, thank you, like, thank you for doing this, thank you for doing this. I was like, this wasn’t just me, like we had, there were so many people supporting this effort, but I just, I want to speak to the fact that they were exuding with appreciation and then pride. And, you know, maybe I’m speaking for them, but you felt this sense of like, yeah, it totally does make sense that I’m investing in this Downtown district and that I’m here crafting my trade and sharing my love for what I do with the community and visitors. It was just, it was really overwhelming.
Ryan Short: So outside of that event, I guess, what are some of the other ways that in your role you have to engage with the public and business owners to kind of bring them together?
Letecia McNatt: So primarily, as far as like relationship management, I do work very closely with our Local Business Association, our Merchants Association. Downtown Garland is totally encompassed with a tours zone or reinvestment zone and everything Downtown development is actually funded out of the tips. So, in keeping in mind that there’s the traditional relationship management component, there’s also a good long list of TIF projects to be implemented over the remaining years of the TIF and just really kind of keeping all of those things moving. Because again, you have all of these energies and efforts that have been successful in their own right that, I’d say like mostly I’m there hoping to make everyone’s efforts more efficient and impactful and realize what’s going on outside of their immediate world. Does that answer your question?
Ryan Short: Sure, yeah.
Letecia McNatt: Okay.
Ryan Short: Yeah, I going to – I think that’s super important because the whole goal of that funding mechanism of that is to improve an area. And so, it’s you want to make sure you don’t just have all these like one off projects that don’t connect in any way or don’t have a greater good. And so, I think that takes a lot of management and communicating and all that.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah. Well, thank you for recognizing that. And to complement the, so like from the business owners perspective, the private investment on that side and then their hand in moving the community forward and then the public investment on the other side, and just making sure both of those groups and every group in between are aware of what the other ones doing so that together, their efforts really truly have that impact that we all envisioned for Downtown Garland is what I’m hoping to shepherd.
Ryan Short: Yeah. Do you have any, like tips or advice or words of caution for anyone with other cities that they’re looking to kind of either create a role or just looking to kind of have better relationship and partnership with their businesses to create some of that?
Letecia McNatt: I would say first and foremost, be comfortable with operating in the gray, quite often, but actually more often than not, and be comfortable with continuously asking yourself why. And at the same time, you know, be respectful of those energies that are already in place and that have gotten, because again, this formal initiative was only been in place there for a year. Obviously, it’s so much happened up to that point, but it’s like a formal Downtown department was only created within the last year, you’ve got to keep in consideration all the work that had been done in the last, oh my goodness, like almost 15 years.
So, just going back to common sense in my mind, like be respectful of what’s happened before you, always ask why but in a way that is considerate of past initiative, future visions and just see how you can help complement that.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah.
Ryan Short: Yeah. Yeah, I think we’ve seen, you know, when we’ve been brought into those scenarios, we’ll have like a roundtable focus group with some business owners in a district, we’ve seen this like, you see the shift over time where sometimes depending on the health of the district, sometimes you’ll see like the business owners was kind of something like crossed arms and, you know, they’re frustrated and they feel like they’re used to – a lot of people are used to talking and engaging with the city in a negative way of like, I’m here to like complain about this and why is the traffic like this in front of my place and, you know, what can you do for me.
And then we’ve seen when we start doing a lot of the things you’re talking about of listening and then let’s – what can we do together and you start slowly seeing these arms crossing and it’s like this realization that like, oh, yeah, we’re on the same team, we’re just trying to figure out how to do this better. And then it completely shifts the dynamics, whereas they’re not complaining about the little things and instead, they’re thankful for what the city is doing.
Letecia McNatt: Oh, man, I think you nailed it. Listening is just like truly listening and being present and which, you know, when you get busy and you feel like you’re running out of hours in the day quite often, it’s hard to really be present and do that. But I feel the most trust that I’ve build with my various stakeholders, I mean, you know, not even necessarily just business and property owners is just to truly do what I can do. Like, and I feel like you don’t have to have some special level of expertise, but to just listen and truly hear them and maybe not, I mean, listen with an open mind, open heart, you know, maybe in the – you’re making notes to potentially try and solve the problem after that, but just be there listen, be compassionate and really try to put yourself in their position as much as you can strategically, I don’t know if that’d be the right descriptive word for it, but just to really try and understand where they’re coming from.
Ryan Short: Right. Yeah, I think that’s great.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah.
Ryan Short: I’ve seen this, yeah, right, instead of like we’re all trying. And I think it’s so true to what you just spoke about of because you have all these different entities that all have the same goal and that’s promote Garland. And, but they all are going to do it in slightly different ways and how can we be coordinated. And so, I think it does take a really strategic effort to think like I almost view it like Russian dolls that are brands within brands but they need to work together but then have their own thing at the right time. I think it’s so important because, you know, it’s just a hard thing to navigate.
And so if it’s confusing sometimes for people that are in it imagine to write consumers that are like, where do I go for what’s happening in Downtown, am I on the Business Association, the city’s website, this page, who do I follow on Facebook? So yeah, navigating that I think is, I think that is obviously not unique to Garland like every city is like kind of working through that. And I think the answer is never to just pile on and Frankenstein a brand and like just add another logo, add another thing, but it’s a really a kind of like…
Letecia McNatt: Take a step back.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah. Well, thank you for saying that every other city is going through that, because if anyone else is like us, you feel like you’re not, you feel like every other city has it figured out.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: Because and that’s, I think speaking to the success of their positioning of their branding, right? But you always try to do benchmarking and identify what other people have working for them and think that, you know, you have this big gap. But yeah, it can be overwhelming. And I can give an example. We had a business owner recently relocate from de Belem into Downtown Garland. She owns a really neat vintage clothing shop and makes it quite the experience for her customers. And she’s very active and engaged in anything and everything Downtown and she’s all about promoting and whatnot.
And I’ll never forget the day I was standing in front of her and she’s like, well, I feel like I saw something about details about this event, but I don’t know it was on, you know, one of those Garland things but just the lack of direct affirmation of where she could go to find the resources or just like, oh yeah, I saw that on the Downtown Garland account. You know, she just – it was confusing to her. And I wouldn’t say the end user, right? Because she was a business property owner, but essentially she is in a way, it’s confusing to us, to your point, like, imagine how it is to that person you’re trying to reach, that customer, or that potential investor even for your district, so.
Ryan Short: Yeah. And the other thing you mentioned of creating social accounts and things like that, like we’ve actually kind of had help a couple clients navigate, because what we’ve seen a lot is, you know, there are just local, whether it’s a business group or just an individual business owner, we’ve seen in one of the communities we worked with, there was just a resident that lived in the area, loved their neighborhood in the Downtown and there was no Downtown like social media accounts. So they just bought the URL, create an Instagram account, crater Facebook, started posting pictures and it kind of got some traction because people would want to check in and that would come up and so they would think, oh, this must be the official thing. And so it kind of grew.
And then the city finally came around to like, we kind of want to invest in this and do it, but like a private person owned it. And then the Business Owners Association, they created theirs. And so then it was like, we had to navigate like, look, we’ve all got the same interests. And so, what we ended helping them to do was the city actually, like purchase the social accounts from the individual, but then is putting money into it, but letting the business organization run it on a day-to-day basis. So, it’s kind of a really cool collaboration because it wasn’t, I’ve seen some cities where they try to like tell us a local resident, like cease-and-desist marketing and it’s like, you can’t do that because they’re just promoting their neighborhood. They’re like, we love Downtown, whatever, I want to share about it, you know.
And so it was a win-win because they created an account because they wanted to promote the area. They saw that it was going to live on and have a bigger life. They got paid for it. And the city is investing it, but kind of handing the keys over to the Business Association. And that was – that worked for that city. Like, that’s not the formula for every city, but.
Letecia McNatt: Oh, no, I’d love to hear more about it. Because that’s essentially like the scenario we could be looking at. And I know that from the city perspective, the concern to your point is, first of all, they recognize the success of the established platform, if you will, or the following. But I think from a city perspective, the concern is they don’t want folks outside of that knowledge circle to misinterpret something to be coming from the city side of things and be associated with up [overlapping conversation] [00:18:25]. Right, right.
So, it just – that’s the outcome, the complication we’re running into. Well, things are, I mean, beautiful and rainbows and butterflies now, but what if there was ever a conflict of interest, how do you set yourself up to not have to showcase any kind of disagreement, right? Or to send mixed messages to constituents. So, it’s just kind of trying to keep everyone’s best interest in mind at the forefront. But I still say, I feel like to your point is that when it’s based in the spirit of pride and love for your city, love for your Downtown and just hate team and get back complicated with the commerce, right? So…
Ryan Short: Yeah. It’s like…
Letecia McNatt: Yeah.
Ryan Short: It’s like talking about like a prenup or something before you get married, you know.
Letecia McNatt: Yeah, exactly. That’s a very good, very good comparison. Oh, who wants to talk about it like this?
Ryan Short: Yeah, it’ll be fun.
Letecia McNatt: Believe in love.
Ryan Short: Right. Yeah. But yeah, I mean, the city has to worry about what if somebody posts something weird and it’s not, or they promote one business over the other, you know. So yeah, I mean, I think the good thing is, like you said before, none of that’s like unique to like one city. So there are a lot of like examples and things where it went wrong, where it went well, that we can kind of get ahead of and kind of help navigate some of those things, but – cool. Was there anything else that you want to share about Downtown Garland or the conference that we’re here at? We’re at the Texas Downtown’s Conference, by the way, in George Town. And, do you enjoy the conference so far?
Letecia McNatt: I have. It’s actually only my second time. Last year was in Corpus Christi, and there’ve been quite a few eye opening sessions. So, I highly recommend coming to the Texas Downtown Association conference on a yearly basis.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: As far as Downtown Garland, again, I feel like we’re best kept secret on the Eastern side of the metroplex. And if you haven’t been to our Downtown, please come visit us and spend the way with us. We have tons of options as far as food and drink. We have a thriving and visual and performing art scene and some really special boutique shopping destination, so look us up.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Letecia McNatt: And just go for Downtown Garland. There’s a strong social presence out there on social media. And come visit us, yeah, absolutely.
Ryan Short: Awesome. Well, thanks for stopping by. Good chatting with you.
Letecia McNatt: Thank you very much.
Ryan Short: Yeah.
Female Speaker: Thanks for listening to Eyes on the Street, a CivicBrand Podcast. If you’re interested in learning more, check out civicbrand.com.