News from the Top

It’s a Great Time to be an Advocate for Downtowns


With the holidays upon us, politics may be the furthest thing from our minds. But there’s an old saying: Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

Consider that in just five days, a new Congress will be seated in Washington. A lot of the issues and challenges that downtowns face will be on the agenda: economic recovery, crime, homelessness and housing, to name a few. Lawmakers and lobbyists will be jawing over policy ideas that could impact our city centers for years to come. This brings to mind another saying: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

That’s why IDA’s Board of Directors made a commitment in 2021 to engage in U.S. federal affairs (a similar effort is underway in Canada). Since then, a dedicated corps of downtown association leaders has been researching policy ideas, meeting with allied organizations, surveying the IDA membership and talking with elected representatives, all in the service of answering two questions: what positions should IDA adopt to support pro-downtown policies? And how can IDA enable its members to use their voices to advance those ideas? This group of committed IDA members has been working for the last year+ under the leadership of Jon Scholes, President and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, who has served as IDA’s first Chair of the newly formed U.S. Policy Committee. I would like to personally thank Jon for his efforts in guiding this committee.

In September, the IDA Board answered the first question, approving IDA’s first-ever U.S. federal policy agenda:

  • Addressing the crisis of homelessness by strengthening programs that help the unhoused.
  • Providing cities with more support for crime prevention and safety by securing more investments in federal justice programs.
  • Helping spur the transformation of multi-use downtowns through incentives for converting unused office space to new uses, including affordable housing.
  • Empowering IDA members to secure federal investment in projects that activate commercial districts.
  • Find solutions to the housing affordability crisis for people in the “missing middle.”

Now it’s time to answer the second question: how we make it happen. IDA’s federal lobbyist will be on the Hill come January, making the case for downtowns. But the best advocates are the folks back home, who know what’s happening on the ground in every Congressional district and state (and vote come Election Day).

In the coming months, IDA will provide tools and resources to help you connect with your federal elected representatives and make the case for sound policies. And March 21-22, 2023, IDA will hold its inaugural Washington “fly-in,” where place management professionals come to DC to meet with their reps in person. More details are forthcoming, but please save the dates.

Federal advocacy is a logical extension of the work we already do in championing our downtowns. And as Congress begins to debate policies that shape the spaces we love, it’s also imperative.