Sarasota Observer: Conversation with Casey Colburn

August 7, 2015 | By

This article was originally published on (August 6, 2015)

dsa chairmanCasey Colburn’s time as chairman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance came to an end Wednesday morning, but the outgoing leader will still keep a close eye on the evolution of the heart of the city and Sarasota as a whole. A lawyer specializing in governmental issues, Colburn doesn’t shy away from pointing to areas he thinks the city could improve the way it functions.

We spoke with Colburn about the proliferation of downtown interest groups and his belief that the city is suffering from a lack of clear leadership.

What kind of challenge is created by the subdivision of various downtown stakeholders into different interest groups?

I think we do have a bunch of people who can work well together. It’s a problem when people are working for their own benefit, rather than for the stated goal or a shared objective. The DSA is an umbrella group, and its objective is the mission statement: Make downtown the best place to live, work and play, to have a clean and safe and vibrant downtown. We strive to be the unified voice for those objectives, but it’s a very significant challenge because, for whatever reason, we consistently see other actors within the downtown space saying that we don’t do a good job at that, or we’re not those people. It’s never really backed up by any evidence, but, rather, it’s usually said in the context of trying to assume that role on their own. I think that what it does it sets back everybody when people treat our city as a very small pie. If we work together, the result is going to be a hell of a lot more pie.

How do you get everybody on the same page, then?

I don’t create the page. My role in life and my role in my career has been to help people achieve their objective. It was not I that came up with the idea of a clean and safe and vibrant downtown. It was someone hell of a lot smarter and with a hell of a lot more experience in successful communities. That person was actually hired by the city and the Chamber of Commerce and never given the opportunity to succeed, and they left. He explained what makes a successful city and said very clearly — it’s all about clean and safe. And he pointed me to examples, and because I want to know everything, I researched the hell out of it. We actually pulled together an approach and had it ready to roll out and seek funding, but the economy and politics — both internal to our organization and within the community — frustrated the timing. It doesn’t mean that we had the only solution, but it was a proven approach.

At the same time, the county was working with Marbut. That proved to be an opportunity for potential success that a lot of people in the community gravitated toward — at the same time, it provides a very clear example of those who find success in the negative space. History’s full of very successful opposition leaders. We’ve had a number of very successful opposition leaders in our community. We’ve had far fewer successful leaders. The result is that the community has been adrift for nearly a decade. Fortunately, we’re adrift in a tropical lagoon. For the most part, the vast majority of our population doesn’t experience too much negative as a consequence of the drift. But I think the last election showed — the people aren’t stupid, and they can see that they’d been getting taken advantage of.

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