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3 Ways Purpose Allows Partnerships to Be More Effective

Kourtny Garrett was a high-school student who had grown up in the suburbs of Dallas and Denver when she went on a three-week tour of Europe and, for the first time, felt like she truly was exposed to urban life. Her group visited a new city every few days, but it was Rome that captured her heart.

“I will never forget the moment,” she told me in our recent discussion on Off the Rak. “I was 17 years old when I stepped into Rome, and I just had that feeling. It’s the energy. It’s the vibrancy. It’s what you’re pulling from the city. And you’re looking and you’re curious. And the best way I can ever describe it is it’s this intangible feeling, right?”

It was, as she put it, “choreographed chaos” where she didn’t know what was coming next, but she knew she loved it.

Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world, so I can relate to the feeling she was describing. But what makes that feeling extra special to Kourtny is where it led her – to a 25-year career in urban economic development. As president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, Kourtny wants to bring similar feelings to the people who live in and visit Denver.

“I get to deliver that for myself and my kids and the community and create the spaces where people connect and make memories,” said Kourtny, who held a similar role with Downtown Dallas, Inc., before coming to Denver in 2022.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I’ve been fortunate to live in several urban areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and now Denver. I really appreciate the work Kourtny is doing, because downtowns are the heart of any city, and their condition inevitably spreads, for better or worse, to the outlying communities.

Downtowns in major cities, like many businesses, are complex, and it’s easy for momentum to carry them in the wrong direction. So how does Kourtny push for positive change in such a dynamic environment? In a word: Purpose.

A Purpose-driven Leader

A leader needs a personal purpose that drives what they do, and for Kourtny it’s all about creating a sense of place that’s memorable and special.

“Our memories, our experiences all are set within the backdrop of a place,” she told me. “Whether it’s your engagement proposal, where you had your first child, where you experienced travel for the first time, … there is this backdrop generally of really thriving fantastic places.”

“It’s our opportunity to create the vision, build consensus around the vision for what downtown will be in the future, and then pull the partners and the resources together to make that happen.”

Kourtny Garrett

A Shared Purpose

Creating that type of place in downtown areas requires collaborative partnerships between the public sector, the private sector, and the community, and those groups often have competing interests.

“We’re not policymakers, we’re not law enforcement, we’re not regulators,” Kourtny told me. “But we are in the business of collaboration and influence and facilitation.”

Getting them aligned and working together is no easy task for a leader, but it will never happen if they don’t all have a voice in defining success.

“The more minds you have at the table who are owning whatever that initiative is or program or solution” she said, “the longer-term commitment you have from all those different entities.”

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Getting Change Done

Bringing a purpose to life requires trust among the partners and execution by skilled and talented teams, and even with that it can be extraordinarily difficult. Downtowns, for instance, face significant challenges right now because of high occupancy rates in many office buildings in our post-pandemic, hybrid-work world.

Naysayers see an inevitable “urban doom loop” on the horizon, but Kourtny believes such market disruptions breed innovation. She’s not denying reality. She just has an indispensable quality of leadership: A belief that her team ultimately will win.

“My real charge and my calling is to say, this is the moment for the biggest, boldest, catalytic moves that we can make,” she said. “It’s our opportunity to create the vision, build consensus around the vision for what downtown will be in the future, and then pull the partners and the resources together to make that happen. I think it’s an exciting moment.”

That’s what Denver needs, but that’s also what every downtown needs. And every business. And with leaders like Kourtny, I’m excited to see what the next moments bring.

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