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Downtown guru Terry Sweeney leaving Corpus Christi

Terry Sweeney, executive director of the Corpus Christi Downtown Management District, shows off one of the many electrical boxes recently turned into works of art by local artists. The mini-murals are just one of Sweeney’s initiatives to brighten up the city’s urban core. Photo by JoAnna Kopp

Terry Sweeney is moving on. The executive director of the Corpus Christi Downtown Management District since 2014, Sweeney has taken a new job as president and CEO of the Downtown Lexington Partnership in Lexington, Kentucky. His last day in Corpus Christi is Nov. 3. He will begin work in Lexington on Dec. 4.

Corpus Christi hired Sweeney away from Indianapolis three years ago. He brought with him 18 years of experience in revitalizing the city’s urban core, quickly making his mark in what is now called the Marina Arts District — a Sweeney initiative.

Under Sweeney’s leadership, the downtown area has brought in a successful bicycle rental program, built an active and vibrant new website, launched weekly email news blasts for the area and much more.

“Sometimes, it all starts with a spark,” Sweeney told Corpus Christi Business News in a 2016 interview. Other improvements overseen by Sweeney include:

• Volunteer “Clean Teams” have cleared 200 street sides block by block, removing graffiti and repainting curbs and trashcans.

• New street sweepers provide regular debris maintenance.

• Off-duty police bike patrols deter crime, creating a friendlier environment.

• A mural project commissioned local artists to hand paint electrical boxes as well as large-scale murals at the Caller-Times Building and Art Center.

• Signature cultural events such as the Art Walk, Bridge Walk, Masterpiece In-A-Day and the weekly farmers market have inspired an art-centric vibe throughout the district.

• Corpus Christi just became the largest city to be named a Main Street Historic District, bringing in more opportunities for grant money to encourage economic development.

Sweeney kept economic development as the central focus of his efforts in downtown Corpus Christi. The area, which was being held together by a handful of determined business owners, was plagued with boarded-up buildings and considered a homeless hangout.

“Terry Sweeney is the best thing to happen to the Downtown Management District since its inception in the nineties,” said Brad Lomax, owner of several businesses in the Water Street Market. “He has an achiever attitude; he’s unbelievably driven. It takes somebody who’s driven to do something like this.”

Sweeney began by identifying problems and setting priorities. He kept tight deadlines and built a sense of urgency to drive action. He constantly repeated the mantra: “Do more, do it better, do it now.”

He also made community involvement the backbone of his efforts, from the many mural projects to the cleanup days.

Sweeney did run into some pushback from developers and others who saw a concentration on downtown growth as competition for building out the suburbs on the Southside. The tension between the two sides played out over a two-year-long battle to write a new city development plan.

“The struggle is that some people don’t see the point of revitalizing downtown when doing it somewhere else is cheaper and easier,” said DMD board member Liz McCampbell, who is director of Waterstreet Restaurants and also lives downtown.

Sweeney kept ahead of the fray by promoting the attitude that this was not an “us vs. them” battle.

“The Marina Arts District’s customer base is young professionals, empty-nesters, transferees, students,” Sweeney said. “At certain points in your life, you want to live in different places."

In Lexington, Sweeney will be in charge of consolidating the Downtown Lexington Corp. and the Lexington Downtown Development Authority. He will be the group’s first president.

“Terry Sweeney will be an outstanding first president of our new organization,” said Steve Grossman, chair of the Downtown Lexington Partnership board, in a press statement. “He has a proven track record of energizing downtown development in two different cities. His experience in strategic planning, economic development, and marketing downtown businesses and events is exactly what we need to launch our new partnership.”

Meanwhile, in Corpus Christi, the Downtown Management District board is expected to begin a nationwide search for Sweeney’s replacement immediately.

An avid bicyclist, Sweeney’s small, but athletic stature can be deceiving. His will still be big shoes to fill.

Sweeney’s not worried, and has pledged to help with the transition.

“Corpus Christi Downtown Management has an engaged board of directors and an enthusiastic team of stakeholders,” he told Corpus Christi Business News in a past interview. “Corpus also has a committed city council dedicated to making sure the city and downtown are successful.”

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