When Alyce Robertson moved to Miami from South Bend, Ind., in 1979 as a management trainee for Miami-Dade County, the downtown skyline boasted only two “towers’’ (the courthouse and the Freedom Tower) and the Cocaine Cowboys were about to stampede.
In the years since, banks, law firms and international offices have moved into more than 94 towers, and more than 80,000 people have come to call downtown home.
Q: Tell us about your background. What did you learn in previous jobs that prepared you for what you do today?
I spent 30 years in Miami-Dade County government in a variety of positions, including the Budget Office, the County Manager’s Office and 10 years as the Assistant Director of the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM), where I supervised the education and outreach and the enforcement divisions of the department. I learned how to wield both the carrot and the stick. I would much rather wield the carrot and educate people as to why a sustainable environment is both in their human interest but also their economic interest. I also learned by being part of a large bureaucracy how to get things done in spite of it.
Q: What exactly is the Miami Downtown Development Authority? How long has it been around, and what is its current mission? How is it funded?
The Miami DDA was formed in 1965 to grow, strengthen and promote the economic health and vitality of downtown Miami. As an independent agency of the city, we advocate, plan and execute business development, urban planning, capital improvements and marketing and communications strategies. Our focus is two-fold: sustain the commercial and residential sector growth within the urban core that has helped downtown Miami evolve into an international destination, and make meaningful improvements at the street level to enhance quality of life for our residents and visitors. We are funded by an ad valorem assessment of up to .5 mils for properties within the DDA district.
Q: You often are in the press because of your position as executive director of the DDA. But what exactly does your job entail on a daily basis?
We have a lot to promote these days. Downtown Miami has gone from ghost town to boom town in a very short time span. The evolution of Miami’s urban core is the number one story behind Miami’s dramatic economic turnaround. We are seeing billions of dollars from around the world being invested not in South Florida, but in downtown Miami. We’ve gone from a city known for its beaches and bikinis to one that is recognized as a center for international commerce as well as arts and culture. ... Downtown is home to every major international bank and law firm, we have more 4-star hotels per capita than anywhere else in the state, our condo market is booming, more businesses are opening each year and retail is thriving, and our nightlife rivals that of the world’s best cities. So you ask about my job — I wake up every day focused on telling that story. I sell downtown Miami, and I love it.
Q: Tell us what was downtown Miami like when you came here in 1979?
Though I had never been [to Miami] before, I thought of it as a retirement village. Boy was I wrong. I moved here less than a year before the McDuffie riots and the Mariel Boat Lift. Downtown Miami had the Courthouse and the Freedom Tower for tall buildings, no Metrorail or Metromover, and County Hall was yet to be constructed. The ethnic strife in the community was awful. The cocaine problem led to many drug-related deaths. My Hoosier relatives wondered why I stayed. Fortunately, we have come a long way since those days!