With an eye on "intentionality," Paul Young takes over at the Downtown Memphis Commission. (Photos: Screen capture; Karanja A. Ajanaku/TSD Archives)

Paul Young, City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development director, was named the next president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Memphis Commission DMC) Tuesday morning.

The commission’s board gave Young unanimous approval after a national search for its new leader. 

Young received an enthusiastic nod from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who called Young “an invaluable leader of our Division of Housing and Community Development.”

Wednesday was a seemingly never-ending series of news interviews, requests for comments and photos, and congratulatory phone calls. 

Much has been made of Young’s new role, his impressive education and the accomplishments tallied in past positions in city government. But, what does Young feel he brings to the DMC that others have missed? That’s easy, Young says: “Intentionality.”

“Intentionality is the element in administration that will govern how we move forward,” said Young. “There should be an overall review of agency programs, and adjustments must be made in those programs if DMC is to belong to all the residents of Memphis. I want people who look like me to come back downtown.”

Young acknowledged that the massive contracting dollars generated by new building projects have not been as accessible to contractors and individuals of color.

“We can’t ignore the fact that there are hurdles that stand in the way of small, minority contractors,” said Young. “Their bonding capability is limited. But there are more things we can do to make the process more equitable—not equal. Equal means everyone is starting out at the same baseline. Equitable means to make the process more equal for those who are starting behind everyone else.”

Young says contractors can “gain more traction through PILOTS.”  PILOTS are “Payment In Lieu Of Taxes” Program, a financial incentive designed to encourage new construction and substantial rehabilitation of affordable multi-family housing through significant property tax relief.

So a “more strategic use” of the PILOT concept can be used to provide greater incentives for participation. Simply stated, established contractors could work with smaller ones so that minority contractors get a real share in the revenue being generated through DMC projects.

These are not really new concepts. Young has been praised for his exceptional abilities in consensus-building and forging community partnerships for strategic planning. In his housing and community development role, Young created the Downtown Tourism Development Zone and is credited with driving the $30 million capital investment for the South City Choice Neighborhoods.

Young wants minority communities to feel that they are a part of city projects moving Memphis forward in the downtown area.

 “There are certain communities that feel like downtown development is passing them by,” said Young. “But I want to see more African Americans and others who feel marginalized to work and play downtown.

Young said as the city comes back from the COVID-19 shut-down, the space in office buildings will look different, no doubt. That remains to be seen, Young says. But more job creation downtown will more than likely be the opening of more small businesses.

 “I would like to see more black business owners occupying space in downtown Memphis,” Young said. “There are some, and we are so glad for that. Some office space holders are not coming back when everything opens back up. We want to see more entrepreneurs move downtown.” 

Young pushed for the city to re-invest in historic treasures like Melrose High School and Collins Chapel. The affordable housing projects of South City and Tillman Cove were also directed by Young as housing and community development chief.

He was also honored for his effort to reduce homelessness and the establishment of Memphis’ Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Young is a native Memphian who earned a bachelors degree in electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Two masters degrees from the University of Memphis followed: the first in City and Regional Planning, and the second in Business Administration in Real Estate and Finance.

Young takes the helm of DMC on April 1. He relinquishes leadership of housing and community development on May 1.

 “For a month, I’ll be working with the administration at housing and community development to secure a replacement,” said Young. “We want to make sure that the transition is smooth and seamless as well.”

Jennifer Oswalt, the former director, left DMC at the end of December.

“There was a very impressive field of candidates,” said Penelope Huston, vice-president of Communications and Marketing for DMC. “That number was cut to five finalists, and Paul Young was the best candidate from our national search, our hometown guy. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Ray Brown, interim DMC president, said he was, “thrilled to pass the reins to Paul Young. … It is uniquely satisfying to identify a local candidate as the strongest in a national search.”

The search was directed by Memphis-based Adams Keegan.