A conversation with Nick Griffin: Economic Development in Downtown LA
On January 26, the Bedrosian Center welcomed Nick Griffin to campus for the first Lunch with a Leader of the semester! Lunch with a Leader provides students with the opportunity to hear ideas from local, state, and national leaders as well as share their ideas and gain inspiration for effective governance in an informal setting. Mr. Griffin is the Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). He led an insightful discussion and addressed questions about the recent rejuvenation of Downtown LA and the work of the Business Improvement District.
The Downtown Center Business Improvement District is an organization that was chartered by the city but serves as a private non-profit. It is completely funded by business owners within the district boundaries, which include North 1st Street, the I-10, 9th street, and Broadway. Essentially, the BID encompasses the center of downtown, where all the office towers are. There are a few other BIDs throughout the city, including the Art District, Chinatown, and the Fashion District. The goal of the economic development team at DCBID is to foster the growth of Downtown LA through attracting businesses and residents to the area.
Mr. Griffin brings a unique perspective to the BID, as he has held a variety of diverse roles in distinct sectors throughout his career. He grew up in Brooklyn and came to LA to attend UCLA. He kicked off his career working in marketing and business development for film and television companies before transitioning to roles in the technology business. After receiving his MBA at Ohio State, he went into real estate and most recently ended up in his current role in economic development. While it seems like a varied path, each position has helped him develop better ideas for the BID. As Mr. Griffin describes his philosophy, “A lot of value gets created at the intersection of different fields and at the intersection of different ideas.”
This philosophy lends itself particularly well to his intersectoral approach of economic development and his current position at DCBID. He brings a marketing perspective to the BID and taps into sentiments and beliefs about downtown that are already there to encourage economic development and bring those aspirations into tangible growth. He describes his role as “a conduit and connector.” While he does not implement policy, he brings together the real estate interests, the business interests, the community, and the arts and culture sectors. He explains, “All of the different areas that make a city really work, we are instrumental in helping bring those together.”
Mr. Griffin’s economic development strategy focuses on 5 key sectors: office and industry, retail and hospitality, arts and culture, streetscapes and public spaces, and residential. Within each sector, the BID’s strategy involves content, convening, and consulting. It produces content and reports like the Downtown Retail Report to compile and share information to key stakeholders and potential businesses looking to move into the area. It also convenes events and tours of the area for business owners that are structured around the vision that is crafted in the content. Finally, the consulting aspect of its operation is where the rubber hits the road. Mr. Griffin and the BID assist businesses, organizations, and residents who are looking to relocate to the downtown space, as well as restaurateurs and investors who are looking for partners.
During the question and answer segment of the lunch, Mr. Griffin discussed a central issue facing the downtown area: homelessness. Homelessness is a complex, multi-faceted issue with a myriad of causes, including substance abuse, domestic issues, mental illness, and unskilled labor. The scale of the problem is increasing quickly in Downtown LA–there has been a large growth in the homeless population, and Skid Row is becoming more concentrated and dense as development pressures on all sides hem it in and exacerbate the issue. One of the roles of DCBID is to provide security and maintenance within its boundaries; as a result, the DCBID is often the first point of contact with the homeless. The BID has a partnership with the Chrysalis Center, which works to employ the homeless and provide services to people in need. Mr. Griffin is a self-described optimist. He believes that “when people come together, there is a solution, even for challenging issues.” As constituents become more vested in the solutions, thereby making more money available, Mr. Griffin believes that the type of work that they are doing at the BID can and should raise all people with it, including the homeless. With more value and resources at play, they can launch the kind of solution on the scale that is required.
As Downtown LA continues to grow, Mr. Griffin predicts that people’s conceptions of LA and sentiments of downtown will change. It will become a true urban center that serves as a hub of innovation in the Los Angeles area. As the area is reborn and revitalized, Mr. Griffin hopes to foster the relationship between USC and downtown to find points of interconnection. We enjoyed our discussion with Mr. Griffin and learning about the exciting growth of Downtown LA!
“All of the different areas that make a city really work, we are instrumental in helping bring those together.”