Left to right, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma, Washington; moderator, Shelley Poticha, Natural Resources Defense Council; Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, Kentucky; and Mayor Pedro Segarra, Hartford, Connecticut.

  • Public/private partnering is critical for urban revitalization efforts, and the city must lead.
  • When to step in or leave market forces on their own is a balancing act for mayors.
  • Pushing back at private sector and public sector issues can “catch a lot of heat,” but gets things done.

Development and redevelopment of urban neighborhoods requires a public/private partnership in which the city—led by a supportive mayor and city—can leverage significant revitalization beyond the initial investments. Understanding real estate and navigating the balancing act of public to private investment are what a mayor can do to facilitate needed programs, according to elected city leaders in attendance of the Urban Land Institute Rose Center for Public Leadership Mayors’ Forum on Public-Private Partnerships and City Building.

Hosted during the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago, mayors from the cities of Indianapolis, Honolulu, Hartford, Louisville, Memphis, Minneapolis, Portland, and Tacoma provided their take on the topic of defining public value in privately delivered projects, the methods used to determine the need for public financing, and the source of public investments.

“The decisions that we make [as mayors] can help solve a problem such as affordable housing or job creation, and it also has a major impact on the city’s competitiveness and quality of life for the long term,” observed Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. “One of the most powerful tools is where a mayor focuses resources and drives attention on a problem, and I think that’s something underutilized in some U.S. cities.” Louisville leverages city and state resources in building a new sports arena, and the associated retail and commercial activity “has been transformational for that neighborhood,” he said.

According to R.T. Rybak, mayor of Minneapolis, “The role of the public sector is to step in when the private sector is experiencing market failure,” and to provide the catalyst to resolve a particular component of that imbalance. Minneapolis didn’t target job creation, given its low unemployment rate, but one major need is affordable housing. Recent urban development has helped create new housing, but he also said, “One thing we really need is an affordable housing trust fund.”

A problem Minneapolis addressed with the help of the Rose Center was a disadvantaged area near a university, he said. “We looked at the infrastructure, and how to move some things, and even removed some roadways to free up development parcels for a sports stadium,” he explained. The related impetus and investment have created a boost in housing and economic development.

Marilyn Strickland, mayor of Tacoma, Washington, cited the experience in redeveloping public housing—and that, sometimes, a city has to push not only on the private sector issue, but also on the public sector issues. The Salishan rebuilding of World War II–era public housing has created a thriving mixed-income neighborhood, “and it’s a great example of using public dollars to bring about greater change for the private sector, jobs, and quality of life.”


From left to right, moderator Lee Bey, Bey Associates; Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu, Hawaii; Mayor Charlie Hales, Portland, Oregon; Mayor Gregory Ballard, Indianapolis, Indiana; Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr, Memphis, Tennessee.

When asked about “hire local” job preference programs, Strickland said Tacoma takes a realistic view of the market. “Sometimes you have a great project with a wide and long-lasting impact, and if you don’t make it a local jobs program you are going to catch a lot of heat,” she said. “But you may have to push back if you can’t get the quality of workers that is needed for a great project, and you should be able to cast a wider net to get great workers.”

Pedro Segarra, mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, noted his city’s unusual challenge with so many nonprofit land uses dominating the town—over half of Hartford’s properties are tax-exempt. The city is pursuing alternative approaches, including a recently announced public/private task force to find solutions.