Lori Houston Carries ‘Downtowner of the Year’ Torch

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Center City Development Office Director Lori Houston accepts the 2014 Downtowner of the Year award from Centro San Antonio. Photo by Andrew J Gonzales.

Center City Development Office Director Lori Houston accepts the 2014 Downtowner of the Year award from Centro San Antonio.

Lori Houston, the energetic director of the Center City Development Office and mother-to-be, was named  “Downtowner of the Year” Friday at Centro San Antonio‘s 14th annual Downtown’s Best Awards to a full-house luncheon audience at the Wyndham River Walk.

Houston was chosen from four finalists:Lori Houston, Creative Civilization, Joan Korte, and Robert Rivard.

Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office. Photo by Al Rendon.

Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office. Photo by Al Rendon.

“I feel like I was running for homecoming queen, which I did 13 years ago and lost,” Houston said, accepting the Gini Garcia-crafted Downtowner of the Year Torch from her friend and onetime boss, former deputy city manager and Centro CEO Pat DiGiovanni and Centro Board Chairman Don Frost. “This is so much better.”

Earlier in the program, her Center City team’s three-phase River Walk Capital Improvement Project was recognized as the Best Development/Construction Project.

Excerpts from Houston’s remarks:

“I am extremely fortunate to have a job that I love, that challenges me every day, and I look forward to going to work every morning. I have been with the City for almost 12 years. I started in Public Works, went to the City Manager’s Office, and then in 2008 was the sole employee in the Center City Development Office. Today we are a department of 160 employees.

“I have worked on some of the largest economic development projects to come to our City, including the Pearl Brewery Development, San Antonio River Improvements Project, and Hemisfair. I was given these opportunities because I worked hard and I because others believed in me.

“I want to thank the Mayor for making downtown a priority and declaring this the Decade of Downtown. I feel comfortable in saying that this is my job to lose between now and 2020 and I will not let you down. The Center City Development Office could not do half of what we do with the leadership of Mayor Castro and (District 1) Council member Bernal. I want to personally thank them for their leadership and the entire City Council for recognizing that great cities have great downtowns and that downtown is everyone’s neighborhood.

Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni stands with the 2014 Downtowner of the Year, Lori Houson, director of the Center City Development Office.

Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni stands with the 2014 Downtowner of the Year, Lori Houson, director of the Center City Development Office. Photo by Andrew J Gonzales.

“It is no secret that Sheryl Sculley is amazing.  We are so fortunate to have her in San Antonio.  Sheryl believed in me in 2006 when she appointed me as the city ‘s project manager for the San Antonio River Improvements Project and has been my advocate ever since. Sheryl is not bossy or the “B” word. She is confident and takes the hard right over the easy wrong in every situation because that is what is best for San Antonio. This is the type of leader we need in San Antonio. I have learned so much from her and continue to grow both personally and professionally under her leadership.”

Houston also shared the news that she and her husband Sam, a local attorney, are expecting their first child, a girl they are naming Millie. The audience gave Houston an enthusiastic standing ovation, presumably for both her professional and personal accomplishments.

Each year a different Centro member sponsors the awards luncheon, and this year it was the San Antonio Museum of Art. Katie Luber, the Kelso Director of SAMA, gave everyone a free ticket to the Matisse: Life in Color exhibit, which opens June 14.

Download a list of past “Downtowner of the Year” awards here.

Centro SA’s first-ever King and Queen of Downtown were crowned Friday. Doing the honors was Kelly Beevers, who works at Hixon Properties and is an active officer of LOOP, the organization of young professionals who live or work in the urban core. She might be better known now as the women on VIA buses and advertisements.

King Snow Montemayor and Queen Rose Taylor stand with Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni.

King Snow Montemayor and Queen Rose Taylor stand with Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni. Photo by Andrew J Gonzales

King Snow Montemayor and Queen Rose Taylor garnered the most fundraising dollars for Centro, and will join the festivities representing Centro and the downtown community along with various other pretenders to the throne when Fiesta runs April 10-27 next month.

Master of ceremonies Ken Slavin, looking elegant in black tie, led the crowd in a line or two of “Downtown,” Petula Clark’s #1 hit in 1964. Without dating the age of attendees, everyone there seemed to know the lyrics.

In fact, there were many young professionals in the room and this year, two innovative, Millennial-driven programs each won awards.

Awesome SA, which has handed out more than $13,000 in monthly creativity grants in the city since its start in 2013, was a Wild Card winner in the most crowded field of nominees.

PechaKucha, the staged presentation by creative individuals presenting their work via a standup dialogue and 20 slides, each one  showing for only 20 seconds, won Best Arts & Culture Program. The standing-room crowds drawn to the quarterly event have caused organizers to search for increasingly larger spaces.

(The Rivard Report serves as a sponsor of both events.)

Roberto Treviño of Little Italy holds his $1000 grant and a rendering of the Piazza Di Columbo for a photo with Awesome SA Trustees and Deans. Courtesy Photo.

Roberto Treviño of Little Italy holds his $1000 grant and a rendering of the Piazza Di Columbo for a photo with Awesome SA Trustees and Deans. Courtesy Photo.

Here is a list of all the winners:

Downtowner of the Year — Lori Houston

Lifetime Achievement Award (posthumous) — Bill Sinkin

Best EventSan Antonio Book Festival, which this year will be held at the Central Library and Southwest School of Art on Saturday, April 5. See the Rivard Report for daily book reviews and interviews running up to this year’s festival. Admission is free.

Best Marketing — ‘City of Yellow Roses‘ by the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Best Adaptive Reuse —  Briscoe Western Art Museum.

Best Arts & Culture Program — PechaKucha San Antonio.

Best Development/Construction AwardRiver Walk Capital Improvement Project (Phases I, II, and III).

Best Public Improvement PartnershipArgo Group/Ford, Powell & Carson.

Best Residential 1800 Broadway.

Best NeighborhoodKing William Historic Neighborhood.

Best Business Space — Argo Group.

Wild Card — Awesome SA, San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Best of Greater Downtown — Hughes Warehouse/Overland Partners.

Best Work in ProgressRand Building, future home of Geekdom.

Charley Gonzalez, VIA’s chief of public engagement, presented the posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award to HemisFair ’68 co-president and Solar SA founder Bill Sinkin. Gonzalez said the friendship between his parents and the Sinkins went so far back, “I remember the day my mother was changing my diaper and I first saw Bill Sinkin.”

“I think my father’s greatest contribution to downtown was HemisFair,” said Solar SA CEO Lanny Sinkin, accepting the award.

“It’s great to know we are a city on the rise, and that downtown is the epicenter,” Slavin told the crowd, bringing the show to a close.

Lanny Sinkin (left) sits with his father, Bill Sinkin, who turned 100 on May 19, 2013 and passed away Feb. 3, 2014. Bill holds a photo of himself wearing the velvet suit he wore to school at age six. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Lanny Sinkin (left) sits with his father Bill Sinkin who turned 100 on May 19, 2013 and passed away Feb. 3, 2014. Bill holds a photo of himself as a child. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Shortly after the awards luncheon, a press release was distributed announcing that Ben Brewer, Centro’s executive vice president and one of the longest-serving downtown advocates, was stepping down to work as a consultant on downtown projects.

Ben Brewer. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Ben Brewer. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Brewer, an architect, was named executive director of the Downtown Owners Association in 1988, which became the Downtown Alliance and grew to 300 members. He led the effort to establish the Downtown Public Improvement District in 1999 and its expansion last year, and served as DiGiovanni’s partner in the transition when the Downtown Alliance became Centro San Antonio last year.

Here is the full text of the Centro press release:

Ben Brewer set to leave Centro San Antonio

 SAN ANTONIO – (Friday, March 28, 2014) After a 26-year career as a leading advocate for downtown San Antonio, Ben Brewer has chosen to leave his position with Centro San Antonio to pursue new personal and business opportunities, company officials announced today. In order to take advantage of those opportunities, Brewer has asked to transition out of his current role as an Executive Vice President effective April 1st.

 Don Frost, Chairman of Centro San Antonio, expressed the organization’s gratitude to Ben for his years of service. “Ben has been a staunch advocate for our center city for more than a quarter of a century. He helped lay the foundation for many important revitalization efforts and I am confident that he will continue to be one of downtown’s biggest cheerleaders. We wish him well as he embarks on this new phase in his life.”

Brewer, an architect who practiced in San Antonio and Houston, became Executive Director of the Downtown Owners Association in April of 1988. He led the eventual transformation of this organization to the Downtown Alliance, a membership and advocacy group that grew to more than 300 members during his tenure. Brewer also led the effort to establish the Downtown Public Improvement District, which launched in 1999 and in 2013 was extended for an additional ten years and expanded to incorporate more properties.

During his tenure, Brewer initiated or supported a host of planning projects, including the Civic Center Master Plan, the Houston Street Initiative, the Downtown Strategic Plan and the River North Master Plan, just to name a few. He also organized and created the Downtown Community Development Corporation, which eventually led to the formation of Centro San Antonio, now led by President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni.

DiGiovanni echoed Chairman Frost’s thanks to Ben for his efforts. “I want to personally thank Ben for the role he played in helping us transition to Centro San Antonio during the past year. He worked tirelessly to make the transition a smooth one, and we’re positioned well to build on his work over the past twenty-six years.”

Brewer will continue to work and live in downtown San Antonio, and plans to consult on projects that will contribute to the revitalization of the city’s core. “I’m excited to begin this new chapter in my career and thankful to the board, our members and the community for the support I’ve received over the years.” Brewer commented. “Under Pat’s leadership, I am confident that Centro San Antonio will be successful in its efforts to move the needle on transformational development in our downtown.”

*Featured/top image: Center City Development Office Director Lori Houston accepts the 2014 Downtowner of the Year award from Centro San Antonio. Photo by Andrew J Gonzales.

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