When you ask Leandro Vicuña about his vision for downtown, be prepared to stay a while, because the new CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance (DSA) has no shortage of ideas, big and small. From cultivating tech start up space to waterfront taxis to painting utility boxes, no idea is too small or too ambitious.
“I am looking for anyone we can partner with, anything we can do to make people and businesses feel safe and welcome downtown,” says Vicuña. “I have been introducing myself to every single business owner and stakeholder here, trying to keep a pulse on what we can do.”
Even though he has only been on the job since September, Vicuña has already overseen a string of DSA accomplishments. During his tenure, DSA has added two additional police bike patrols, partnered with smartphone app Clean Up Stockton to combat vandalism, and collaborated with The First 50 to spruce public spaces. While these are small steps, they have a visible and immediate impact on how people perceive downtown. Vicuña notes that quickly removing graffiti discourages future vandalism, and installing more artistic trash bins discourages littering and creates a more inviting environment for families.
But over the long term, the key to Downtown Stockton’s success will be the ability to retain the city’s young professionals while attracting talent from Silicon Valley. Vicuña understands that economic development in today’s economy means fostering innovation and cultivating entrepreneurs. Downtown Stockton is on the right path, according to Vicuña, both with established venues such as Café Coop as well as a forthcoming tech start up incubator funded by a recently awarded PG&E grant.
“We want Steve Jobs-type visionaries to come here,” says Vicuña. “We can show Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that they can make a name for themselves here without the high rent and with less competition.”
With a background in finance, Vicuña hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the DSA. Prior to his current position, Vicuña worked in the banking industry for ten years before starting his own nonprofit, Sus Finanzas, dedicated to promoting financial literacy and financial inclusion for Stockton’s low income families. And at 35 years old, Vicuña feels he has just the right amount of energy and experience for the job.
“Coming from the private sector, I don’t have that ‘business as usual’ mentality,” says Vicuña. “I’m not too young to be green, but not too old to be seasoned, either.”
DSA board members feel the same way. They see Vicuña not just as a CEO, but also as an ambassador to the demographic they hope to attract to live, work and play downtown.
“Leandro is young and has a passion for downtown,” says Mahesh Ranchhod, DSA’s board chairman. “We felt both of these traits were important because the sort of people that will live downtown will be both retired boomers who don’t want to drive everywhere and young professionals who want to enjoy both work and nightlife within walking distance. We knew that having Leandro (as the CEO of the alliance) would help bring this population to downtown.”
Vicuña is determined to see downtown succeed not only as the CEO of DSA, but also as a neighborhood resident. Because Vicuña both lives and works downtown, he sees and experiences firsthand the possibilities and the challenges in reviving the city’s core.
“I like to lead by example,” says Vicuña. “I live and breathe downtown Stockton. And since I’m also a resident, I want to see it thrive that much more.”
More and more, Stockton is attracting innovative, entrepreneurial types who view Stockton’s situation as an opportunity to create something unique. It’s fitting that the new CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance is of the same mold.
“There’s a new trend in Stockton,” says Vicuña. “It’s exciting.”