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Flint, MI—Kiaira May just moved from Detroit to her new home in downtown Flint, but she’s already becoming a fixture on Saginaw Street as the Downtown Development Authority’s interim executive director.
“My day is emails, emails, and then after that I have an open door policy,” May said, sitting down in her Church Street office, dressed in what her DDA staff have termed her “uniform”: a dress, a blazer, and sneakers. Today her dress and blazer are both a crisp black. Her shoes are pink Nike high tops.
May says she hasn’t been out every day only because she has also been commuting from Detroit, about an hour each way. “But,” she said, “I got my keys today!”
She had just returned from a meeting at Soggy Bottom Bar, one of the Flint businesses she’s visited since taking over from the DDA’s prior interim director, Khalfani Stephens, a few weeks ago. Though her appointment was announced in mid-June, it still must go through Flint City Council for final approval.
If approved, May will be the first Black woman to hold Flint DDA’s executive director position, and at 28, the youngest.
“I’ve been trying to just schedule meetings with community activists,” she said, “and then after that I try to get out on the street and just talk to people and introduce myself.”
May is spending time introducing herself because she believes the Downtown Development Authority should be a connector between Flint’s businesses, leaders, activists, and community.
“Communication is key,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve been noticing that we actively need to work on. Every party does. Me too. It’s just making sure that you know what this person is doing. We are an alliance, a village.”
Aside from getting input from businesses and residents, she said her first priority is fixing Flint’s parking meters.
“That’s the elephant in the room,” she said.
Three of the DDA’s four Google reviews are one star, each referring to Flint’s downtown parking meters. The meters were installed in 2019 and generate revenue for the DDA’s activities, but the reviews describe them with words like “scam.” One review concludes: “I’d rather stay away from downtown than use these machines.”
“I’m trying to figure that out,” May said, “just going through contracts, really trying to understand the system.”
Other changes may include a website revamp and a look at managerial processes. Currently, the Flint DDA’s web presence is split between flintdda.org and flinttown.info, the latter of which hosts the DDA board’s agendas and meeting minutes, though neither have been posted consistently for about a year and a half. There also remains a looming concern over how the DDA accumulated the large budget deficit that was brought before Flint City Council in April 2021.
But May remains optimistic. “Right now, the DDA is trying to move forward,” she said.
After fixing parking concerns and getting a handle on processes, May said she wants to bring more events and businesses into downtown, a plan she referred to as “activating” the area thanks to her former career at a Detroit real estate firm.
May said she’ll keep harnessing that help while she walks around in her Nikes, working to improve communication between all of the businesses, nonprofit organizations, and community members who she believes ultimately share the same vision for downtown Flint.
“We’re all playing on this playground together,” May said. “We won’t always agree, but at the same time, we all want the betterment of Flint. That’s the number one thing.”