When the Brooks Development Authority board chose Leo Gomez as president and CEO four years ago, the stated reason for his hiring from among 402 candidates was simple: “He knows San Antonio and this region. He understands the political landscape.”
Gomez gained that knowledge working for local chambers of commerce and as the public and government affairs executive for Spurs Sports & Entertainment. He was hired to replace interim CEO Roland Lozano, who served in the position for a year after the board forced out former CEO Donald Jakeway.
Last week, Gomez led Brooks in celebrating a milestone in its progress toward becoming a successful mixed-use community that brings positive development, growth, and jobs to a shuttered Air Force installation that has been a fixture on the Southside of San Antonio for 100 years.
A father of two children now in college and married to State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) since October, Gomez opened his remarks at the “Quincentennial” event talking about his own history with Brooks, the story of how he built his first home near the base just before his daughter was born.
The Rivard Report sat down with Gomez, 52, the day after to talk about the future of Brooks, his leadership career path, and why he believes he was predestined to lead Brooks.
Rivard Report: Would you tell us about your early years, growing up in the Rio Grande Valley?
Leo Gomez: I was 6 years old when my parents divorced and we moved from Edinburgh to the big city, McAllen. I was the oldest of three, and became “the man of the house.” Our mother worked cleaning houses and whatever she could do, but we relied on public assistance. We spent a lot of time at the Boys & Girls Club and with the church family, which gave us some structure and direction in life. I love my dad, but we did not see him much in those days.
Later, in high school, I was an introverted geek. My best friends were books, and I loved to read about leaders in history. I joined the Marine Corps JROTC and became battalion commander and leader of the drill team. It was retired Lt. Col. Richard Moore who taught me about accountability, ownership and getting things done. He was the first Anglo man I had ever seen who cared for Hispanic kids and believed in our potential.
After high school, I did what every other 17-year-old did after a few beers – went to a recruiter’s office and signed up. All the successes I had seen in my life were people who went off and served. But Col. Moore told me I was college material and helped me gain acceptance to the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School.
RR: What were your college years and early career like?
LG: I didn’t make it through the USNA and it was painful, but it taught me a lot about life. I went home and enrolled at UT Rio Grande Valley and started working at Carl’s grocery store. I went to school full time and worked full time. I was determined to finish on time even though I had lost a year at the Academy.
At Carl’s, I worked hard and learned customer relations, teamwork, and leadership. A professor urged me to attend graduate school even though I had never considered it. I was accepted into the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin.
Like at the Academy, I was again enveloped in an environment where everyone’s last name was difference from mine; I met people from all over the world. But this time, I was ready for it and got involved in student leadership opportunities. My teachers were people like Ray Marshall and Barbara Jordan, so I had a really good public policy education there. I got my first job working with Dr. Ricardo Romo at the Tomas Rivera Center think tank at Trinity University and worked there for three years until joining the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
RR: After a stint as CEO at the Hispanic Chamber, you went to work with the Spurs for 10 years before taking a position at Toyota. What did you accomplish there?
LG: Between those positions, I was able to build some good relationships with the business leaders of San Antonio. Many of them are now investors of the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s what led to my position with the Spurs. I was handling their political matters, but I did it with an understanding of the business reason for it.
Getting the arena funded and built with a lot of taxpayer support required local support and legislative support for the mechanisms that create the options for raising public revenue to fund the construction of the AT&T Center. At the end of the day, it was a proposition to the voters.
It was probably the very first countywide campaign I was literally responsible for running on behalf of the Spurs. I have a picture here in my office of me telling [Spurs owner] Peter Holt we won. That was 1999.
RR: You told people you wanted this job at Brooks. Why?
LG: There was no doubt in my mind. The first home I ever built was a stucco home in Brookside, on the other side of the fence here. This was my first neighborhood as a homeowner. I knew what wasn’t outside the fence. I always had a passion for figuring that out. Through my college education, my pursuit of political science and business was always with an interest of someday playing a role in redeveloping neighborhoods that have fallen into disinvestment. That’s the role I want to play in life.
When this job came open, I said this is what God’s been preparing me for. I wanted this job. This was going to be the opportunity to do what I’ve been striving to do my entire career. It’s why I went to school. This is what I want to do.
I’m not certified in economic development. There was a piece in the Express-News that said my [job] consideration was a political consideration, not a qualified consideration. To that, I say, how many jobs do we have on this campus? How many projects have we completed in the last three years? What do we have coming? That’s what I say to that.
RR: What is coming next at Brooks and the area around it?
LG: When the board decided to pursue a mixed-use strategy rather than a business park in 2013, we adapted the mission and vision statements to what we have today. So we pursued that and took down the fences and guard shacks and said we’re open for business, whether you’re a donut shop, a coffee shop, a MixFit Studio or a DPT Labs. We’re building a community because we want to attract quality employers who want to be located in the midst of a quality community.
The neighborhoods have been impacted not only by what has happened on these 1,300 acres, but also by what’s going on around it. They are provided with more retail and restaurant options than they ever had before. Our surrounding neighbors are, for the most part, thrilled and are asking for more. Their only complaint is traffic, and it comes up in our quarterly town hall meetings.
Stabilization is what’s coming next. We’ve embarked on a lot of projects. Now we have to stabilize them. For example, the challenge was to develop a hotel, and then it was to build it, and now we’ve got to operate it and make it successful. It’s the same with each one of our apartment communities. So stabilization is the theme for the next year or two, and make sure all those projects are successful in generating revenue.
We know what our priorities need to be for the next couple of years, and we have our eyes on the bull’s-eye. We have goals and objectives, and we know what we have to strive for.