Each January, the President of the United States gives the State of the Union address to Congress and the American people. It lays out the Administration’s agenda for the coming year by reporting on its accomplishments and outlining a spending plan for the challenges ahead. Invariably, the President says some version of “The state of our Union is strong.” That obligatory gesture used to always receive a long, standing ovation from both sides of the aisle...until recent times. Even august Congressional traditions fall by the wayside over time. I guess it points out that while some things will always be the same, other things change. As I begin my transition from vice president of Renaissance Planning in Orlando to a public sector job in Pinellas County on Tampa Bay's Gulf Coast, I wanted to share my thoughts on making this major career change and relocation, my objectives, and what my departure may mean for Renaissance. This is a time of great opportunity for me and, in a different way, for Renaissance.

A good fit

Cue the line: The state of our union is strong.

It really is. I’m leaving Renaissance, but not hastily. It’s on only the very best of terms that I plan my departure from Renaissance. As I told our staff last week, I have not, and would not, consider any other job in the public or private sector, were it not for this unique opportunity in a county I truly love and appreciate. Renaissance is an amazing firm with passionate, highly competent people who are interesting, insightful, often quirky, and just a pleasure to collaborate with. I mean that. No disrespect intended to any former Renaissance staff: this is the best collection of principals, project managers and dedicated folks we’ve ever had, and I’ve been very happy here.

Renaissance staff enjoy some relaxation after Day 1 of last fall's company retreat.
Renaissance staff enjoy some relaxation after Day 1 of last fall's company retreat.

But change is sometimes necessary. A good friend and client with the Florida Department of Transportation told me “sometimes you just have to re-pot.” As a gardener, I get it. So, on June 22nd, I will end my nearly 16 years as a founding principal with Renaissance to become Executive Director of the newly unified Pinellas Planning Council and the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in Clearwater, FL. This Tampa Bay Times story provides background on this brand new position and selection.

With fellow gardener, Melanie Blanton.
With fellow gardener, Melanie Blanton.

I’ll remain with Renaissance through early June, allowing time for completion and transition of projects, and some time for me between jobs. I will greatly miss seeing the day-to-day growth of a dynamic metro Orlando, and my beautiful city of Winter Park will always be in my heart.

So, what the heck was I thinking?

First, while I could have had a lot more discussion with my colleagues and family before deciding to embark on this endeavor, it was not something I entered into lightly. I began my career with JHK & Associates working on data collection for Pinellas County’s first transportation impact fee back in 1988-89. Soon after, I was the lead planner on a public transportation Comprehensive Operations Analysis for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, leading to a major restructuring of service toward commuting. In the early 1990s I began a 20+ year working relationship as a consultant project manager for the Pinellas MPO and many of its cities, from St. Petersburg to Indian Rocks Beach and Tarpon Springs, and regional partners.

Through that work and the many relationships I formed, I fell in love with Pinellas County, its outstanding arts & culture, amazing park system, great places, lovely shoreline and the 47-mile Pinellas Trail. Oh, and they have baseball: the major league Tampa Bay Rays, spring training home for the Phillies and Blue Jays, and two Florida State League Class A teams.

Second, it’s an amazing job opportunity in a dynamic community and region working on major issues and various types of change. We do not have Councils of Government in Florida. Instead, we’ve created a disparate hodge-podge of planning and implementing agencies at the state, regional and local levels that sometimes work together and sometimes work at cross purposes in a single region. Pinellas County leaders spent the last four years to create a unified land use and transportation planning agency to help guide countywide and regional decision-making. The goal is to forge a stronger bond between the county, its cities and various agencies around a compelling vision and strategic course of action. My focus will be to align local and regional decision-making, facilitate desired, quality redevelopment that supports economic opportunity through well-planned housing, destinations and transportation connections. It's also very important to enable cities to be cities by defining their own ways to plan and sustain their communities.

Great opportunities

Blossom
Blossom

As a mostly built-out county, its leaders recognize that Pinellas County’s future must entail a focus on redevelopment and multimodal transportation accessibility. Beyond a few committed capacity projects, there are limited ways and little desire to widen more roads. However, on the heels of a stunning defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum last fall, it’s clear the county, its 24 cities and all the different agencies must regroup and figure out a new approach that balances redevelopment and economic development with livability, while enabling additional, financially achievable, transportation choices. I know the county has good plans in place, hard-working and committed elected officials, highly capable staff in every jurisdiction, and a pride in their culture, diversity and character. I can’t wait to join them.

When I spoke to the guy who gave me my first full-time job 27 years ago, my long-time business partner and mentor, Chris Sinclair (a part-time resident of St. Pete Beach), his response was “I get the pull. There really is so much opportunity there. But what’s the push?”

There really isn’t one. But after 27 years of being a consultant, traveling from place to place and getting some opportunities  to really get to know a place, worrying about finances, billing and accounts receivable, I am ready for a change. Plus, I know Renaissance is in great shape financially, is adding staff in several offices, and has an excellent team doing great work across the country on innovative plans and developing new tools for diverse communities and clients.

While there is a unique intensity about working at Renaissance, it’s fueled by a devotion to highly innovative, quality planning and the creative process that together shape communities for the better. I’ll certainly miss that energy and passion as I re-pot, but I'll look to capture that same enthusiasm and passion with new Pinellas County roots. In the meantime, I will carry out my remaining assignments with the same commitment I’ve always had so as to leave the garden carefully tended for the next crop of blossoms to emerge.

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