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In the C-Suite: Why developer Timothy Elliott looks to Disney for planning inspiration

Most people think about diamonds when they hear the phrase "the 4C's," but developer Timothy Elliott thinks redevelopment — specifically, campus, commerce, community and culture.

It's his guiding mantra through each of the large economic development projects his firm Elliott Sidewalk Communities takes on in college towns along the East Coast. The Sparks-based planning and development firm specializes in integrating campus and community life by turning underused or vacant properties into a walkable "Main Street" of sorts.

Elliott, 56, has more than 30 years of experience in architecture, design and project management and runs the firm with his co-managing partner Brian Rogers. Elliott and Rogers recently brought on a new partner, local developer Jim Flannery. He will serve as director of development at the firm.

Elliott Sidewalk Communities has finished or is in the process of completing projects in Greenville, North Carolina; Durham, North Carolina; High Point, North Carolina; Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina.

While the company has not yet taken on a project in Maryland, Elliott hopes the firm will someday be a national leader in "university city" redevelopment projects.

The BBJ caught up with Elliott to talk about development, community and why he visits Disney World as many as four times in one year.

On tax increment financing:

"Tax increment financing (or TIF) are always a sensitive subject. Getting the go ahead from municipalities for advancing these funds is getting strenuous at best. City budgets are very strained, and how to mitigate the city’s risk of recovering the advanced capital for infrastructure if the project fails is a key issue affecting any largescale urban redevelopment. Baltimore has two very large-scale projects in process utilizing hundreds of millions of TIF [dollars] — Harbor Point for $107 million and Port Covington for $660 million. Some see it as diverting funding from the general fund. However, blighted properties with no revenue stagnate growth for urban workforce, stain city culture and actually cost more long term if left alone. Cities face a hard choice and are exceptionally scrutinous of these economic tools — rightfully so."

On Disney World:

"I am a bonafide and admitted “Disneyholic” — visiting Disney World three to four times per year. I don’t visit to go to the parks so much as to study traffic control for large-scale developments, landscape design, graphic design and in all ways, promoting downtown joy — our company's No. 1 goal for all our developments. My wife gets impatient with me sometimes as I take some very unusual photos for my collection including street sign graphics, parking deck photos and how they make details such as a fire hydrant part of the experience! Unmatched."

On his company's next goal:

"Our goal is to become the nation’s leader in university city redevelopment projects. We are working with six universities for over $200 million in redevelopment projects. We seek to double that in the next four to five years. We will grow our internal team significantly and seek equity partners and funds to provide for the additional projects in the coming year. We get about two to three university city calls per month."

On community involvement:

"I [and my large extended Italian family] have been involved for decades in the St. Anthony and St. Gabriel festivals in Little Italy. My dad actually led this for many years, and of course we all pitched in. There, my cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends help cook the tens of thousands of ravioli, and thousands of gallons of sauce used for the food — all to raise funds for the historic and aging St. Leo’s church. In a way, I saw first hand, the huge impact and role that festivals play in providing downtown joy. All our work in university towns use this in our philosophy that buildings are just brick and mortar. It’s the activation, or lack thereof, that make or break a great city!"

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