Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Jackie Gorman’s tenure as CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) ended on Wednesday when she announced her resignation following nearly 10 years with the nonprofit. Akeem Brown, SAGE’s director of operations, was named interim CEO.
Gorman’s colleagues credited her with focusing and enhancing the operations of the nonprofit that advocates for and invests in small business and encourages development on the historically neglected East Side. During her tenure, Gorman established loan and grant programs that gave small businesses the boosts they needed to thrive in evolving – in some cases gentrifying – neighborhoods.
“Jackie has left some pretty hard shoes to fill,” SAGE Board Chair Robert Melvin told the Rivard Report on Thursday.
For Gorman, it was just time for something different, she said.
“You do everything in your life for a season, and I think my season at SAGE is at an end,” she said. “I don’t know if I have a real clear definition for what’s next … but I don’t anticipate leaving the East Side. ”
After some time off, Gorman plans on “reactivating” her own small business, Ivy Consulting, and working on economic development, perhaps “something in the housing area,” she said.
SAGE’s board will conduct a national search for Gorman’s replacement, Melvin said. The top candidate would have experience with the organization and the Eastside community and would continue to keep in step with the board’s vision, Melvin said.
Brown has those qualities.
“I think that [Brown] is an extremely talented individual and quite capable of carrying that load, but we have an obligation to the community and stakeholders to ensure that we do take a broader look – and then to confirm what we already know,” Melvin said.
Under Gorman’s leadership, SAGE’s Store-Front Grant Program, the Equity Fund, the Grow Eastside Fund, and the Choice Façade Improvement Grant Program were initiated and expanded to help small Eastside businesses build capacity while attracting and retaining jobs.
“The strategic plan – that was all created by Jackie in conjunction with the board,” Melvin said. It was her role to execute it, and “our job [as a board] is to sit back and enjoy the beautiful works of art being painted. She and the staff are the ones that do the work and get covered in paint.”
Following that metaphor, he said, “she’s a fantastic artist.”
Gorman also served as a kind of mediator, he said. As interest in Eastside real estate continued to grow, she started connecting developers and residents – even hosting dinner discussions for stakeholder groups to talk about their needs.
She understood that development and growth were a “double-edged sword,” Melvin said – on one side were investment and infrastructure, on the other higher tax bills.
“Jackie was instrumental in creating environments where people let their guard down,” Melvin said.
Her greatest mediation skill was her ability to be upfront – at times blunt – with people, he said. “You don’t wonder where you stand with Jackie.”
Melvin recalled Gorman taking aside a young female employee who was leaving and saying: “You have to find your voice. You have to find your power. And don’t let anyone take that away from you.”
Melvin believes those words changed that young woman’s trajectory for the better.
Brown, who joined the SAGE team two years ago after working for the office of City Council District 2, called Gorman a “mentor and champion” for citywide growth, not just on the East Side.
“A lot of people may talk about her rough personality,” he said, “but she is one of the strongest and most business-minded women I have ever met. SAGE is what SAGE is today largely because of her work.”
Ten years ago, “nobody ever thought about development on the East Side,” Gorman said. “We didn’t have folks looking to invest dollars, and [SAGE] brought some credibility to the East Side.”
She recalled driving around near Eastside neighborhoods such as the Dignowity Hill Historic District – where beautiful, 100-year-old homes sat vacant and empty lots filled with trash. In the car with her was Charlie Turner of Terramark Urban Homes, whom she prompted to “close his eyes and imagine” what could be, she said.
Turner was one of the first developers that started building new housing units throughout the area – for better or worse, depending on whom you ask.
Equity is at the core of SAGE’s work, said Gorman, who served on the City’s Housing Commission and on a working group for the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force that worked for more than a year to develop a policy framework to bolster affordable housing in San Antonio.
“Equitable neighborhood development is really important to me,” she said, adding that she joined those groups not only as SAGE CEO but because their goals were “personally important to me.”
Brown said he will continue that work in equity – and a tangible opportunity recently landed in his lap.
SAGE received a $40,000 grant to research and develop a plan for equitable neighborhood development, the nonprofit announced Tuesday.
The funding came from a collaboration between JPMorgan Chase & Co. and The National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) that distributed $40,000-$50,000 grants to 10 different organizations across the United States.
SAGE will use that funding to train existing staff on GIS mapping and data analysis, Brown said, and will take advantage of NALCAB’s technical assistance that comes with the grant.
First, his team will produce a map of assets – including vacant lots – on the East Side that will be posted on SAGE’s website. Next, Brown wants to create a strategy to help people rehabilitate and renovate their homes.
He also hopes to build on what Gorman has established, including finding a larger and more permanent home. SAGE’s offices are located at 220 Chestnut St. just north of St. Paul Square, next to the historic Ellis Alley.
“We’re busting out the seams here at Ellis Alley,” he said.
Gorman said she’s looking forward to taking some time off, but will be working on several projects that she declined to identify on Thursday.
“The East Side has not seen the last of me,” Gorman said. “I will still be a servant of the East Side.”