Frank Taylor served as executive director of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency for 20 years before retiring in 1999. Prior to his work in San Jose, Taylor held a similar job in Cincinnati. A Boston native, he is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati's School of Architecture. With a tight control over the Redevelopment Agency, Taylor's task was to revive San Jose's downtown, from which developers, businesses, residents and even city government had been fleeing since the 1950s. At times he clashed with historic preservation advocates, merchants, landowners and elected officials, including current Mayor Ron Gonzalez. But no one can deny that downtown San Jose has become an important part of Silicon Valley. CP&DR What's the proper role of a redevelopment agency? Taylor It is basically to go where no one else will go and do development. It is to take the tough projects that no one else will do, to create jobs and raise the tax base. … I had an additional criterion, and that was the City Beautiful, to make people feel good about their city. And, of course, there was industrial development. So it's not just construction jobs, it's permanent jobs was well. CP&DR What was downtown San Jose like 20 years ago? Taylor It was a regional embarrassment and a national joke. San Jose and Cleveland were often talked about at the same time. CP&DR Downtown seems like a vital place now. Taylor It's a work in progress. The foundation is in place. Future development won't need as much economic assistance as previous businesses. The other role that redevelopment had in downtown was to complete the freeway system. The downtown was not connected to the freeway system. That's very rare. The reason we were able to do all this is we were able to merge our bankrupt redevelopment areas with our industrial redevelopment areas and bond for the funds, the tax increment. CP&DR How does a redevelopment agency measure success? Taylor You measure success a lot of ways — the jobs created, the tax base. Those are pretty straightforward. The other way is pride in your community, people feeling good about where they live. I mentioned the City Beautiful. Then you need a place for children. They were in all our plans. Then, as I began to age, I worried about the elderly. … Redevelopment is not just about the buildings themselves, but the spaces between them — parks, plazas, walkways. We had three areas of focus: the plaza in the center of the city — that included the Fairmont [Hotel], the art museum and the convention center; Guadalupe River development; and the civic center. CP&DR What pitfalls exist for redevelopment agencies? Taylor The pitfalls for us were the economics and lack of confidence. … The lack of investment was really very, very hard to overcome. And the possibility of being able to make more with your dollars in the suburbs than in downtown was very strong. And I had to fix up the infrastructure, which had been badly neglected for years. Retail is still the most difficult because the city is surrounded by retail shopping centers that compete for the development. They have been able to expand their facilities. I didn't want them to, but I lost that battle. CP&DR Where does housing fit in? Taylor The other thing that's important is housing, market-rate housing that you can't distinguish from affordable housing. I didn't want to build affordable housing apart from market-rate housing. I emphasized homeownership, condominiums if I could get that. We've built about 1,500 units, but we need a lot more, 5,000 to 10,000 units. CP&DR What was your biggest success? Taylor You know, the hardest deal to do was the Fairmont, and in conjunction with that was the convention center, because that was the first big deal. That was important to do because it lifted the quality for San Jose. People came into the Fairmont and walked around and saw that San Jose was not second class. Adobe was the first corporate headquarters to locate downtown. And Knight Ridder was the second. That's something nobody thought of in 1980. CP&DR What would you do differently? Taylor I would have waited on the retail until there was more housing built. I would not have tried to incorporate the amount of retail into the [San Antonio] Plaza, which was part of the Fairmont project. I would have phased it in more. And I would have pushed light rail a little more. I lost that one I should have outreached more myself with the historic preservation people. I didn't want to save buildings for plywood. I wanted to save buildings for their use. The De Anza Hotel is still a hotel. … We saved a lot of historic buildings, but we battled over about two or three major projects, and that got the program sidetracked. And I would have shaved off my beard earlier. I originally grew it to make myself look older. CP&DR Can a city be revitalized without a redevelopment agency? Taylor If it has the economics and the market forces, yes. … But if a city suffers all the external forces and has been neglected, you need a program to get it to come back. I'm encouraged. I think the market in San Jose is much stronger. You're going to see less subsidies or maybe even no subsidies for office projects downtown. … Redevelopment programs need to be decisive, risk-taking programs. CP&DR Do you recommend any changes to the Community Redevelopment Act? Taylor I think they ought to leave redevelopment alone. There are time limits on it. Redevelopment should not be forever in any city.