Commentary: Perceptions About Downtowns Are Changing
By Maria Saporta
More than 700 people from around the country descended on Atlanta from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9 to attend the International Development Association meeting at the Westin Peachtree Plaza. The event harkened back to 1977 – the last time the IDA came to Atlanta. At the time, Dan Sweat, who was heading Central Atlanta Progress, hosted the organization.
Downtowns have changed dramatically in the four decades since the last time the International Downtown Association met in Atlanta.
For instance, the organization’s members were the top executives of downtown groups – and at the time, they were all male. So Atlanta put together a “ladies program” for the spouses. Dan Sweat’s wife – Tally Sweat –helped organize the program.
Today, the association’s members include staff members in addition to top executives and industry consultants – and a large portion of the attendees were women.
Richard Bradley was president of the association in the 1980s. He remembered journalists calling when downtown department stores started closing and asking him whether their downtowns were dying.
Bradley optimistically told them downtowns were changing.
In the 1970s and 1980s, stores and businesses were moving away from central cities as suburbs were booming.
Today, downtowns are rebounding. More people want to live and work in urban centers – choosing authentic and historic locations rather than cookie-cutter suburbs.
The lingo also has also changed. Now downtown leaders talk about “place making” and creating experiences – a sharp contrast from the previous perception that downtowns were dirty, dangerous and dull.
Richard Bradley’s efforts have come full circle. He was recently presented with the IDA’s Dan Sweat Lifetime Achievement Award. One of the people presenting the 2016 award was Sweat’s widow – Tally Sweat.