Downtown Denver Comes of Age. Standing at just over 5 feet tall, Tamara Door is a force to be reckoned with. A veritable whirlwind of activity, she exudes a positive energy that can make an Olympic runner appear lethargic by comparison. She is energy in motion in both her physical being and her mind, which seems to spill over with ideas and thoughts surrounding Denver and its glorious potential. Even her last name befits her status as one who has paved the way for the revitalization and renewal of downtown Denver, who literally and figuratively has helped open the “door” of opportunity and made the Mile High city the envy of its brethren nationwide. True, Door is quick to point out that when it comes to charting the progress that has enveloped the downtown Denver area, the impact would not be nearly so dramatic were it not for a phenomenal public/private partnership that allowed change and progress to occur. Yet for so intricate a plan to unfold, a single individual had to spearhead the effort and successfully combine the ideas being tossed around, while cleverly working to ensure all involved entities received their share of credit, appreciation and respect. Door is the individual who has allowed that to happen, largely because of her passion to make Denver the best city in the nation.
Originally from Detroit, Door and her family moved to Denver in 2004. She had been working with the Detroit Regional Chamber for eight years, serving as its executive vice president in charge of membership, marketing and events. The job was a terrific challenge, and her efforts helped propel the Detroit Chamber into becoming the largest in the United States. A chance dinner with another couple changed everything. “One night, we (Tami and her husband, Rick) were out with some friends, and they kept saying, ‘We wish we would have …’” she recalls. “When Rick and I got in our car, we looked at each other and said we never want to be like that, wishing we would have done something and never doing any of it. So we spent the next year asking ourselves and others, ‘If you could live any place in the country, where would it be?’ Our thinking was that if we were still living in Detroit 10 years from now, it would be because we chose to be there and not because we never did anything to change.” Somehow, she recalls, Denver kept coming into the picture. Then one day, out of the blue Tami received a call about a potential job in Denver. The opportunity did not materialize, but it did lead to another possible job with the Downtown Denver Partnership, where she currently serves as president and chief executive officer. As head of that organization, Door works to build on growth and development initiatives that were first implemented in 1986 as part of a 20-year plan for downtown Denver. “What resulted from that plan is that today we have new stadiums, a great transportation system in the works and a variety of big projects. Our challenge now is to seam all the progress together and make it work in the best possible way,” she explains.
The key to such planning, Door says, is the strong commitment to work within a public/private partnership. “This is what I greatly enjoy, and it has allowed me to have an interesting role within the community. It has brought together developers, the business community and civic leaders, all working together to achieve common goals that will benefit Denver,” she says. The ability to achieve a true 50-50 partnership, Door says, has made Denver the “envy of many other cities.” The plan that is now being implemented, which follows on the heels of the original 20-year plan started in 1986, represents the culmination of 18 months of strategizing and the resulting input of more than 2,000 individuals. “What we are working on now represents the vision for the next 20 years,” Door says. “When the first 20-year plan was presented in 1986, the economic times were not that great. But there were true visionaries who knew it could be done and knew what it took to accomplish it. Today we are able to build on their vision and to make downtown Denver a vibrant and exciting place to live and work.”
Tami DoorThe streets of downtown Denver are a far cry from those early days, when Mile High Stadium and Larimer Square were among a handful of attractions that drew outlying residents seeking entertainment. The 16th Street Mall once enticed shoppers, but suburban and urban malls, with their high-end retailing, began eating into retail revenues. Door and others are working to permanently change that landscape and to reintroduce locals and visitors to a downtown that can rival other cosmopolitan cities with a variety of shopping, dining and cultural attractions. “We’re working hard to get on the radar of national retailers, but this is a process that can take three to five years,” Door says. “At the same time, we recognize that downtown retail must be unique because people are not going to drive downtown when the same retailer is a mile from their house. I like to look at Portland, Ore., as an outstanding example of a vibrant downtown, with great retail mix and a wonderful pedestrian environment. We recently took 40 top civic and business leaders to that city to see what could be done, given the commitment and the vision. The good news is that the private sector in Denver is very willing to invest in the infrastructure in partnership with the public sector, something that is unique to Denver.”
It appears that this willingness to work so closely together can be credited to Door’s experience and can-do attitude. In fact, her first job out of college, working for Comerica Bank, placed her on a team of individuals working to implement banks in grocery store settings. Walk into any grocery store today, and banks and automated teller machines (ATMs) are an expected amenity. Back then, the concept of electronic banking services was a vague idea that had yet to take hold as a marriage of the financial and consumer marketplaces. Door says, “It was a challenge to get people to use an ATM, and we would instruct the tellers on how to teach customers to use an ATM and to point out they wouldn’t have to wait in line. Many customers would be offended and would walk out. I remember this challenge to teach something new, and I use it as a great reminder that whenever you’re trying to introduce a new idea, you have to have a long-term vision to get it off the ground.”
Door says her good fortune was in being part of a process that would ultimately help shape a whole new way of banking. The team that was working on this program had limited experience in banking and no preconceived notion of what could or could not be done. “In the end, it taught me that people can learn how to do anything if they keep their minds open. However, anyone can learn a skill set, but you cannot teach a person to feel passion for something. That has to come from within,” she reflects.
Door’s willingness to take on new challenges and open up her world to limitless possibilities extends beyond her professional life and encompasses her family. When she and her husband, Rick, decided to adopt a child, they realized that an international adoption was the path they wanted to pursue. Working through an agency, the couple traveled to Romania, a country with an excellent foster care program. “International adoption changes at different times, and in any given year it can become easier or more difficult to adopt from specific countries,” Door explains. The couple stayed in Romania for two weeks, bonding with their new son, Parker, who had been living in foster care. Today, the Doors remain very involved with Global Hope, an organization that moves children in Romanian orphanages into foster homes and private settings. Shortly after the couple adopted their son, the Romanian adoption program shut down, and no more adoptions were allowed. The Doors filed paperwork to adopt a child from Ukraine and spent one month in that country visiting their soon-to-be son three times daily, filling out paperwork and appearing for court dates. “The process of getting our son, Hayden, was such a different experience from what we faced with Parker,” Door recalls. “But now our family is together in Denver, and we feel so fortunate to be able to live here and call this our home. We try to take advantage of everything this state has to offer, whether close by the city or farther away.”
Door was recently awarded the Livingston Fellowship, an award given annually to five nonprofit leaders. As part of the $25,000 grant, Door will work with others to develop a game plan on how to take her skills to the next level, both personally and professionally. The goal is to encourage and inspire others to remain in the nonprofit realm and not use this sector as a steppingstone or transitional vocation. As part of her fellowship Door will visit other cities to better understand how individuals have effected change in the public and private sectors and what those changes mean for the city. In July she traveled to several national and international cities, meeting with key individuals, such as mayors and CEOs, to better understand how they initiate and implement change. Once the fellowship is completed, Door plans to write a book featuring the nonprofit leaders she met. She will showcase their work to better demonstrate how others can turn nonprofit work into a career.
Door says, “There are so many people coming and going in the nonprofit world, and this is a detriment to the organizations themselves. We need to give young people the experience and opportunities that will make them want to remain in the nonprofit realm and to grow with the organization and help see it through to its potential.” Tami DoorWith so many projects to implement, it appears that Door’s work in this particular nonprofit agency is far from complete. “It’s remarkable to think about all the things that need to be considered in order to create a vibrant downtown, whether it’s streetscaping a street or finding the type of business that will thrive in a particular location. We’re also working hard to create a true downtown theater district by recreating 14th Street. All of these efforts require a partnership working together to create the horizontal infrastructure that will in turn attract the vertical development,” she explains. “We have so much support to make this happen,” she says. “The downtown stakeholders care so much about this area, and they take so much pride in it. It makes an impact, and it’s obvious to all who see it. We truly are the envy of so many other cities across the country.”
Written by ELLEN GRAY
Photography by KIT WILLIAMS