Christine Burdick retiring after 15 years leading Tampa Downtown Partnership

TAMPA – Tampa Downtown Partnership president and CEO Christine Burdick is retiring after a 15-year run that saw the city’s urban core take some big steps along the path from dead zone to playground.

Burdick, 68, plans to focus on special projects through her retirement on Jan. 1, with chief operating officer Lynda Remund helping manage day-to-day operations at the nonprofit partnership.

Partnership chairman Mickey Jacob said that since 2002 Burdick has exercised thoughtfulness and vision to play an integral role as downtown has welcomed new residents, new parks, new hotels and street life that goes on after rush hour traffic fades.

“We will miss Chris terribly,” Jacob said Wednesday. “She is somebody who has had her influence on so much that is so good about our community.”

Through a contract with the city of Tampa, the partnership runs a special services district that staffs downtown with guides for visitors and a “clean team” that picks up litter. It also focuses on marketing, business development, planning, activating public spaces and issues like transportation.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Burdick has been a useful sounding board for ideas and was a steadying influence, especially as the city struggled through the Great Recession.

“The right person at the right time for the partnership,” Buckhorn said. “I think the world of her.”

Burdick helped launch the popular Downtowner free ride service, as well as facilitate or plan for the 2012 Republican National Convention, the redevelopment of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, the introduction of the Coast Bike Share rental service, the re-thinking of the TECO Line Streetcar and the creation of the InVision Tampa plan for downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The amenities complemented a demographic shift that has brought a wave of new residents to Tampa and other metro cities. Last year, the partnership reported that downtown’s population had doubled in eight years to more than 8,100 people in 5,700 apartments or condominiums. Two-thirds of downtown residents earn $100,000 or more a year.

And the growth continues, with construction underway on hundreds more apartments on the former site of the Tampa Tribune, near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, on N Franklin Street, in The Heights project and in the Channel District, which is getting a downtown grocery store, a Publix, after more than a decade of effort.

The University of South Florida also has broken ground on a new medical school building near Amalie Arena, and the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment partnership is preparing to start construction on a series of new office buildings, multi-family residential towers and hotels as part of its planned $3 billion Water Street Tampa project.

One thing that’s different from 15 years ago, Burdick said, is the city’s sense of pride and confidence.

“The pride comes from all the things that we have developed and the way the city has grown as a reasonable and comfortable and lovable city,” said Burdick, who before coming to Tampa worked on projects to revive Chicago’s State Street and Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road Mall. “It’s a lovable city.”

Asked what she hopes the partnership focuses over the next few years, Burdick did not hesitate.

“Because of its impact on all aspects of downtown, we can’t get away from transportation,” she said.

The partnership’s board will meet next week to name a committee that will put together the process for hiring a new CEO, Jacob said.

“We want to act as quickly as possible, but we want to be very thoughtful and strategic about what we want to do and how we want to fill that position,” said Jacob, an architect. “We’re excited about where we’re at and what’s happening. I look out my window and I see cranes. In my world, that’s pretty cool.”