So Fisher listens to a wide variety of stakeholders involved in the process of revitalizing downtown. On any given day, he visits government officials, solicits ideas from business leaders, talks with property owners and shares his vision with the leaders of community organizations, all of whom have their own agendas.
"There are so many different opinions," Fisher says.
Unlike the commercial developer seeking to develop a particular property, the CDDC is focused on specific sections of downtown that encompass several properties. And there are many ideas about how to develop them.
The CDDC is the product of a study commissioned by Mayor Michael Coleman and the Columbus City Council, and Fisher has volumes of guidance at his fingertips, thanks to that study.
"We use that here at CDDC as our action plan," Fisher says.
That said, Fisher says the picture is constantly changing, forcing the CDDC to re-evaluate its action plans frequently. A former law partner with Vorys Seymour Sater & Pease LLP, Fisher says his more than three decades of experience as a lawyer, doing problem and situation analysis, translates well to his current role.
Smart Business spoke with Fisher about the challenges he faces in helping to revitalize downtown.
What's are the greatest challenges involved with heading a development corporation?
The difficulty is the fact that, by the very nature of the job, I work with a very large number of stakeholders, (which) include property owners, government and business leaders, and community leaders of all sorts. The challenge is in coordinating their input and getting them to work toward having a common vision, goal and an understanding of how to achieve that goal.
It's not like being a regular developer who decides to build on one piece of land. We are dealing with hundreds of property owners and many hundreds of other stakeholders. It's a communication effort (and) it's necessary to take in the ideas and desires of the various stakeholders and convey them to others in the process. It can go on like a chain reaction.
Everybody understands the need to revitalize the downtown, but there are some differences in view point of how to accomplish that. But everyone sees the need for some change. Nothing stays the same; as things happen, there will always be the need for change.
Today, as I work on this task, something will change. My real role, and CDDC's, is to be a catalyst to cause the changes that occur to be positive and at an accelerated rate than they might otherwise be.
What lessons from your law experience do you apply to your current job?
I spent 37 1/2 years as a lawyer. The experience and training I received that is the most helpful is analyzing situations. Situation analysis is something I had to do in my years in the legal profession, and the same type of analysis needs to be done to determine what types of changes are needed for the downtown.
It's often said that in law school and taking exams, students need to learn how to identify problems, then go find or figure out the answers. The same principle applies to the redevelopment of downtown. We have to figure out the specific problems which were the most causative.
(Once that happens), you know what needs to be addressed and how to make change. With planning downtown, we identified problems which were the most critical and then identified many alternatives. All of that experience and training carried over extremely well.
How were the problems with downtown identified?
I don't falsely take credit for identifying the problems. That's one thing that was well done here before I came on the job. Mayor Coleman initiated the concept, and with the support of the city council commissioned a major study which resulted in the April 2002 strategic business plan.
That whole effort did identify problem areas and laid out action strategies for the downtown. It's [the study and action plan] not immutable, though, as things change. But it was the action plan that led to the creation of the CDDC as a nonprofit, with a board of the community's strongest leaders dedicated to the redevelopment of downtown.
It is a fine guide, so I don't have to start at ground zero. The plan itself has five action strategies: One, build more downtown housing. Two, stabilize the office market. Three, concentrate development in specific areas. Four, develop a riverfront park. And five, improve transportation throughout the downtown.
What led to the current situation downtown?
I don't think there is any short answer to that question. It was a number of factors, and the factors are common threads throughout cities; Columbus was not unique. If you look at the geography, almost all cities on a river grow upstream, and that has been true of Columbus, where so much of our growth has been heavily north and east, making the downtown more remote for residents.
That's why one of our goals is to build residences downtown, and we are ahead of schedule on that item. Our goal is to build 10,000 residences, and there are currently plans to have 15,000 residences built in the area by 2012. That's the size of Worthington in a small area. It will have a big impact.
The city has been very aggressive and played more of a role than the CDDC in providing incentives of various kinds to locate or retain jobs downtown. We are also working to provide companies an education on the specific benefits of being downtown.
Columbus as a whole is suffering through a terrible vacancy rate. We've had some of the highest vacancy rates of anyplace in the country. It's true of the downtown and it's true of the rest of the metropolitan area. Last quarter that changed, and the downtown's vacancy rate was less than the rest of the city.
What obstacles will you have to overcome to make the plan a reality?
The obstacles to revitalizing the downtown are by and large the same types you face with any kind of development; it's just that, in my position, there are greater numbers and varieties of them. We are focusing on four quarter blocks. We need to identify the best projects, address funding, marketing, maintenance and continuing development.
How are you enlisting the participation of the business community
CDDC is a perfect example of that enlistment. Parallel to that is the Columbus Partnership. That organization looks at how to be a catalyst for change in the entire community. Bob Milbourne is doing an excellent job there.
The CDDC is playing a similar role but focusing on the downtown. We're seeing the business community step up and asking, 'What can I do to help?' The leaders of the CDDC are particularly charged with identifying ways to get broader community support.
We take community input and get it back out in the community. That's what we're getting better about doing.
How to reach: Columbus Downtown Development Corp., (614) 645-5150