Who’s Who: Letecia McNatt
Downtown Development Manager
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from originally? Do you have family in town?
I was born in Dallas and lived there until the 5th grade when my family moved to a small town named Dawson. The population at the time was 766. My HS graduating class was a record-setting size of 54! I feel that living in the urban DFW area and then moving out to a rural town gave me a good balance of both modes of life.
I first went to college in San Antonio but eventually transferred to UT Arlington with a major in Sociology, followed up with my master’s degree in Public Administration.
What attracted you to this field?
I was blessed to have the opportunity to work for my family’s business for 10 years, which is located in Deep Ellum. That experience gave me a great understanding of what it’s like running a mom and pop business nestled in an ever-changing district. The neighborhood continued to redevelop and as business owners who chose to stay while others left, we had to figure out how to adapt to those changes while remaining authentic.
Some people know from early on they wanted to be involved in local government. For me, it was something I was exposed to later in life. At first, I was focused on non-profit management. But as I made my way through my studies, it became more apparent, I had a public servant’s heart and really wanted to find a role where I could have an impact on building the best community for the citizens of that community. I had always associated city leadership only with politicians but more and more I came to see it as a great opportunity to develop creative solutions, and challenge institutional thought and paradigms. It’s been very exciting all along the way.
What brought you to Garland?
While working on my Master’s I worked for the City of Colleyville in their Public Works Department as a GIS Analyst and Management Specialist. From there I transitioned to the Economic Development Department with Grand Prairie. In 2018, I accepted the opportunity to serve as Garland’s first Downtown Coordinator and focus solely on the revitalization of the district.
Tell me a bit about your role, how do you explain what you do to people who don’t know?
Our office is located under the umbrella of the Convention and Visitors Bureau more known as Visit Garland, which handles special events, marketing and tourism. The Downtown Development Office (DDO) is an advocate for Downtown Garland. Our team coordinates district revitalization efforts, marketing, policy efforts, and small business development. We are a hub of resources and aim to be the main conduit between downtown business owners, property owners, the Chamber, and the nonprofit sector. We are dedicated to a geographical boundary of businesses and property owners and our goal is to position the district as a hub for locals and a destination for visitors.
As the Downtown Development Manager I work alongside a phenomenal team to come alongside business owners who are navigating retention and expansion. Our efforts are pretty full-service. We work to ensure they understand who to connect with in the city to deal with day to day challenges from concerns like if their trash hasn’t been picked up all the way to if they are looking to rehabilitate their property. We also strive to market the district to locals and visitors through various downtown activation campaigns.
Can you expound more on your vision of downtown as a hub for locals and a destination for visitors?
We value what visitors bring to the table, but we’re focused on locals first. I believe that if we create something the locals love, then they will point visitors to us as a destination. Our department is primarily focused on the perspective of business owners and locals while my director at Visit Garland is keeping visitors in mind. These two views really feed off each other, balance each other out and ultimately position Garland as a special destination.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
One of the biggest challenges that we face in Downtown is location. The district is not geographically positioned as most downtowns are. You almost have to know where you’re going to get there. I’ve had folks mistake a shopping center called Fire Wheel for our downtown. We need to be able to confidently say our residents know where downtown is and ensure it is part of their mindset. We’ve made tremendous progress, but it’s something we’re constantly working towards.
To do that, we invested in a branding initiative. We also created different campaigns that run throughout the year. For example, we launched the “Fair Fare on the Square” campaign when the state fair was canceled due to COVID. We partnered with various restaurants who created fair-centric items and we marketed them in any and every way we could. Our goal was to pull in all of the foodies who were missing out on the fair and introduce them to Downtown Garland.. The campaign wrapped up its third year in 2022 and has really put a great foot forward in getting our name out there and securing media coverage.
Someone once told me that downtown is the heart and mirror of your community. It really is a true reflection of your community’s personality. We’re trying to capitalize on opportunities to be creative, unique, and eclectic just like we are in our bones downtown.
How do you work with small businesses?
This department is almost five years old. We spent the first two years getting to know all of our businesses and establishing strong relationships so that we were a go-to when they have questions or concerns. Right now, we’re in the middle of renovating our town square, a project that will affect the square and surrounding areas and businesses. Quite a bit of our time prior to construction was navigating the exploratory phase. We interviewed businesses and advocated for their vision of the space to the construction project team.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve been a huge source for communication, ensuring everyone is prepared for what’s to come. Though we can’t control the unexpected scenarios construction can create, we don’t want people to be caught off guard as far as overall approach. Now that we’ve passed the half-way point for this project, we’re returning our focus to small business resiliency and development. We want to put opportunities and tools in place to support the development of small businesses, whether that’s helping them expand, rehab their building, bring on additional staff or work on their business plan. We’re really shifting our focus to be a resource for the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What advice would you give small businesses that you work with?
One thing I always like to tell new businesses is that, if you have a question and you don’t know who to ask, just call us. We might not be the person with the answer, but we can point you in the right direction. We’re there to ensure you have a solid understanding of your city landscape and the resources available to you so that your business is set up to thrive.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work in Garland?
I have two little boys that are pretty hard to resist so I like to figure out ways to bring them to our free concerts and events. I also really enjoy working out when I have time so you’ll catch me at a gym downtown. I’m a foodie to my core and love exploring new food in Garland! We have a foodie haven…there’s always some new culturally-diverse food to try.
What projects for downtown are you most excited about?
I’m excited to see how the new design will balance out a venue setting for large-scale events and still maintain a flexible space for daily use. The surrounding streetscapes are shifting to more pedestrian-focused amenities like wider sidewalks, added landscaping, and cohesive aesthetic details throughout the district. Downtown will be that hub for locals and destination for visitors. I’m hoping folks will find it hard not to stay a while!
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