Gabriel Vicknair, 35
Assistant executive director, Downtown Development District
Downtown Baton Rouge keeps on transforming, and Gabriel Vicknair is on the front lines getting his hands dirty—literally. A time or two, he’s been outside using a shovel while wearing a tie. But for Vicknair, the Downtown Development District’s second-in-command, the dirty work is all too important to pass up because it helps downtown continue to thrive. Vicknair plans on staying in the Capital Region for a long time, helping downtown continue its march toward becoming a vibrant space that attracts people from across the state and nation.
THREE MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The Downtown Greenway started as a vision of connecting downtown with surrounding communities to spark economic development and promote alternative transportation. After much community input, the leveraging of many different funding sources and a thorough planning process, the Downtown Greenway will soon be a built reality. The project will help usher Baton Rouge into a new era of safer bicycle facilities and community connectivity.
The construction and management of the North Boulevard Town Square has given the Baton Rouge community a place that showcases the diverse culture of our city. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment every time I attend Live After Five in the square and thousands of people, representing all colors and creeds, are brought together through the power of music and place. The award-winning space has also brought a new level of sophistication to community events and has been an extremely effective catalyst toward my professional mission of redeveloping downtown Baton Rouge.
Since graduating from the top landscape architectural program in the nation, a goal of mine since the eighth grade, I have received training in economic development and have built a skill set that has enabled me to view the urban environment through a unique lens.
VOLUNTEER AND COMMUNITY AFFILIATIONS AND INVOLVEMENT
I am a member of the Downtown Business Association Board where I volunteer as chair of the Live After Five concert planning committee. I am also a member of the International Downtown Association and serve on the Planning & Park Resources Advisory Committee for BREC.
WHAT ACTOR/ACTRESS WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE?
WHAT IS YOUR THEME SONG?
Some triumphant instrumental like 1777 by Russian Circles.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT?
My first real job was a landscape laborer for my late uncle, mentor and landscape architect, L.D. Kelleher. It not only taught me simple things like what was expected of a valuable employee such as punctuality and good customer service, but also set me on the track to where I am today professionally. It instilled in me a great respect for the people in the trenches and taught me to never be afraid of getting my hands dirty.
NAME ONE BOOK THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU PROFESSIONALLY.
One of the first design books that I was ever introduced to, Form and Fabric, heavily influenced my perspective of how humans perceive and experience spatial design in outdoor spaces, and how even moods and emotions can be affected by design intervention.
WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
An astronaut—I dreamed of going to space camp.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE FOR A BUSINESS LUNCH IN BATON ROUGE?
Anywhere downtown for obvious reasons.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Building a family with my wife Sophie.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST FULFILLING MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
We have been working to increase residential opportunities in downtown Baton Rouge for quite a while, and investors are now really stepping up. Over the past year, downtown has accumulated nearly 500 residential units that are either under construction or being planned in the Central Business District alone. We now have critical services such as a full-service grocery store, a pharmacy, and a health facility all on Third Street. The last few years have produced great indicators of success, and I am very proud of downtown’s progress.
WHAT WAS YOUR PROFESSIONAL “AHA MOMENT?”
The first time I felt that I “held my own” in a tense meeting with some important movers and shakers. Although I had and still have tons to learn, I finally felt confident that I could handle the challenges ahead.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
I make a point to work steadily and try to avoid unnecessary breaks or time wasters. This helps me get my day’s work done efficiently, so that I can maintain a healthy balance of personal and professional time.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR JOB WOULD SHOCK CUSTOMERS OR CLIENTS IF THEY KNEW ABOUT IT?
Managing a downtown can be quite interesting at times. At DDD, we deal with a wide range of daily issues that require the wearing of many different hats. Let’s just say that I have been caught using a shovel with a tie on.
WHAT’S A WEIRD RULE AT YOUR JOB THAT YOU KNOW IS ONLY THERE BECAUSE SOMEONE WAS DUMB ENOUGH TO DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Choosing bottled water over tap for coffee.
MAC OR PC?
PC at work, MAC at home.
WHEN DO YOU TEXT AND WHEN DO YOU CALL?
I prefer a voice call for anything remotely conversational, but these days I often default to text out of courtesy.
HOW LOW WILL YOU ALLOW YOUR REMAINING BATTERY LIFE GET (IN %) BEFORE YOU HAVE AN ANXIETY ATTACK?
No anxiety, but I normally start looking for the charger at 5-10%.
HOW MANY UNREAD MESSAGES ARE IN YOUR INBOX RIGHT NOW?
More than it seems, since Outlook shows a preview. I stay on top of them, though.
HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON?
BREAKFAST AT HOME? BREAKFAST ON THE GO? BREAKFAST AT YOUR DESK? NO BREAKFAST AT ALL?
Breakfast at my desk or just coffee.
IS THE GLASS HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL? WHAT’S IN THE GLASS?
Half full. IPA.
THE SAYING IS, ‘BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.’ SPECIFICALLY, WHAT ARE YOU ‘BEING’ TO MAKE BATON ROUGE BETTER?
A great deal of my job involves improving our quality of life. My day often consists of solving community problems and pushing progress through many planning and economic development initiatives. I work toward a future Baton Rouge that offers services and amenities that attract and retain residents and businesses—a place that others envy and that no one ever wants to leave.
WHAT’S YOUR MOTTO?
Never say never.
WHAT’S YOUR IDEA OF PERFECT HAPPINESS?
Peace, security, family and fun.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU HAD GROWN UP?
It was not very long ago at a trampoline park in BR with my 3-year-old son. While helping my son out of the foam pit, I overheard a teenager tell his friend that he was “waiting for the old guy to move.” His comment was not as much of an offense as it was a reminder that I am no longer a selfish kid, but now a husband and father, and have a much greater role in others’ lives.
WHAT TRAIT DO YOU MOST DEPLORE IN OTHERS?
I deplore when others are convinced that things will change for the worst, but deny the possibility of change for the better.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE YOUR AGE FOREVER, WHAT AGE WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?
Can’t say that I would want to stay any age forever.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE JOURNEY?
Driving into the mountains to put-in for a kayaking trip with the windows down and a nervous feeling.
ON WHAT OCCASION DO YOU LIE?
WHICH TALENT OR SUPERPOWER WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE AND WHY?
Teleportation would come in handy. I would be able to see more of the world, but would need the ability to take people with me.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST TREASURED POSSESSION?
My backyard studio/man-cave.
IF YOU COULD LIVE ANYWHERE ON THIS PLANET AND TAKE EVERYTHING THAT YOU LOVE WITH YOU, WHERE WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE AND WHY?
I would set up a sustainable commune with family and friends somewhere that offered plenty of natural resources and wild scenery.
WHAT DO YOU MOST VALUE IN YOUR FRIENDS?
The motivation to stay connected.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT THE ’90s?
IF YOU HAD TO BE A TEACHER OF SOMETHING, WHAT WOULD YOU TEACH?
Principles of design.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME 20 YEARS, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?
Hey kid, take it easy on the student loans.
WHAT USELESS PIECE OF INFORMATION WILL YOU NEVER FORGET?
It takes 535 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH EVERY TIME YOU THINK ABOUT IT?
Disco Bob does Paris.
WHO’S THE MOST FAMOUS CELEBRITY YOU’VE EVER MET?
Famke Janssen. I was giddy like a school girl.
WHAT’S THE NEXT CHALLENGE YOU HAVE PLANNED?
My next personal challenge is to raise my two sons to be skilled, confident and compassionate adults. Professionally, it is to bring downtown into a new era. The downtown of tomorrow will be a 24/7 urban core with many more residents, retail offerings, quality public spaces, a vibrant entertainment scene and a range of employment opportunities. My challenge is to respond to the growing needs of downtown as I grow along with it.
IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN, WHAT CONCERNS YOU MOST ABOUT THE FUTURE THEY WILL INHERIT?
I worry about how society is being affected by technology and how I will raise my children to not be so dependent on technology, while not alienating them among their peers. I also worry about the value of free speech being degraded by political correctness and information gathering.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR FUTURE FORTY UNDER 40 HONOREES?
You may not fit, but you belong.
DO YOU PLAN TO BE IN THE CAPITAL REGION FIVE YEARS FROM NOW? WHY OR WHY NOT?
Definitely—this is my home. The cultural elements are in my blood, and this gives me the pride and motivation to continue here.
NAME THREE THINGS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST.
Three of many are to learn the cello, buy acreage in the country, and visit the highlands of Scotland.
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