Life According To… Tracy Huggins

After nearly two decades working at the Denver Urban Renewal Authority—an agency that revitalizes neighborhoods by providing financing to developers—Tracy Huggins has helped turn downtown from a struggling business district to the thriving mixed-use area that it is today. Here, she talks about Denver’s evolution, being a working mother, and why communication is so important.
May 2011

I love numbers, I always have. I was dating a guy in college—who later became my husband—who told me that if I love numbers, I should be an accountant because I’d make good money. I didn’t care much for it until I took an auditing class, which I loved. Auditing is like being a detective.

I worked in auditing in New York for a while. But my husband and I are from Western Montana, and we knew we didn’t want to put down roots there. We moved here and eventually I started working as the controller at DURA.

The downtown you experience today is a night-and-day difference from when I came here in 1987. At 5 p.m., the sidewalk rolled up. Downtown was dying. Residents had moved out of the city core to the suburbs, so business followed. People didn’t have to come into the city to shop like they used to.

Our goal at DURA is to prime the pump and to help private investors in challenged areas. We help them manage the risk that they are likely to encounter. And when those are successful, the private sector can then invest without public assistance.

The biggest difference between the public and private sectors is one of time. A developer wants to do a good project, but the time they want to be involved is short—they want to come in, make money, and move on. A community wants to do a good project, too, but they are going to be there a lot longer.

Many of the original residential properties we worked on were rental buildings, so you mostly had young professionals moving in. Now, we’re seeing empty nesters and families with kids choosing to live downtown. I think it would be amazing if we had enough people downtown to have a school—an amazing DPS school.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to keep your eye on the prize. The work we do is hard, but just because we’re met with “no” 25 times, we still ask the 26th time—that might be the time it works.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s a huge disservice to everyone if you don’t say, “I don’t know.”

I tell my daughters that whatever they want to do, find a job that gives them joy.

There is guilt about being a working mom. When they were young, I had to tell one of my daughters that we couldn’t do Girl Scouts, that we didn’t have the time. But I went to almost all of their soccer games.

My first real job in Denver was for a single parent who owned her own business. To be able to work with someone who understands that when daycare calls and says your kid is sick, you can go home, that was great. Was there an expectation that you’d bring your work home to finish? Yes, of course.

One thing that concerns me from a broader societal standpoint is the way we communicate with one another. My teenage daughters hate to talk on the phone. They’d prefer to text.

So much of society is dependent on how we talk. It is too easy to leave a voicemail after hours, or to send a text message that may be misconstrued, or put up a message on Facebook that may not represent who you are. What does it mean if we never sit down and talk to each other?