Linda McGurn: Award-Winning Redeveloper

Linda McGurn: Award-Winning Redeveloper

2012 Woman of Distinction

Linda McGurn started recycling while a University of Florida student in the early 1970s, well before curbside recycling was the norm.

“I would collect our recyclables all month and then a friend would take them to the collection center up in Jacksonville,” she recalls. 

Today, McGurn is still recycling, but it’s more of a big-picture operation. She is an award-winning redeveloper who repurposes old buildings, and in the process, reinvigorates downtowns.

Linda and her husband, Ken McGurn, are the couple who sparked downtown Gainesville’s renaissance by redeveloping the Sun Center and the Opera House, and building Union Street Station, Arlington Square Apartments and the Downtown Parking Garage.

“Downtown redevelopment is essentially recycling buildings, using what you already have,” Linda says.

She recently installed LED lighting in several of the commercial buildings she manages, drives a Prius (her second!), and has installed solar panels that generate 540,000 watts of electricity on the roofs of the McGurns’ properties (that’s over a half a megawatt! Huge!).

If it’s possible to recycle a downtown, give her credit for that, too — revitalizing once blighted downtown Gainesville into a hip social and economic hub.

“She’s spent an incredible amount of personal time and energy in making our community better, in transforming the downtown area, and in preserving both our natural and our built environments. We all are in her debt for this, forever,” writes her friend Marilyn Tubb. “She’s not afraid to raise questions, but it’s always in a nice way. She is smart, kind, thoughtful, down to earth, interested in others, hard working. And she’s great fun to be with.”

McGurn, 59, received both her accounting and law degrees from the University of Florida. .She is a CPA and  lawyer, but her only client is Ken. In 1992 she argued her first and only case before the Florida Supreme Court. She won.

Her love affair with downtown — in fact, she likes all downtowns, not just Gainesville’s — started as a girl when she helped out in her dad’s downtown office in Fayetteville, N.C. Her father retired from the military, then worked as an accountant for a clothing store.

“I would help him with bookkeeping, run errands, shop, and take classes at the downtown Y,” she recalls. “Everything was within walking distance. I liked seeing people and talking with them. I felt like I was part of a community. And that’s what I love about downtown today.”

The Gainesville Chamber of Commerce recently named Linda and David Day its 2011 Volunteers of the Year for co-chairing Innovation Gainesville, an initiative focusing on encouraging more green tech and health technology companies in Gainesville.

“The idea is to bring together great companies and great ideas, with investors and create jobs in Gainesville. We’re a collaboratory, bringing the information together and facilitating,” Linda explains. “We’re trying to get everybody working on the same page. We can all believe in this. We’re not against each other. It’s a great way to grow. We’re focusing on the assets that are already here, such as UF. Our tagline is ‘we make cool things happen.'”

Linda has served the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce in many different capacities over the years, including several years on its board.

“Linda has vision, and is dedicated to executing that vision,” said Chamber President Brent Christensen. “She understands it on a large-scale level and the work that needs to be done on a daily basis to accomplish larger goals. She is a great listener and problem solver, and an advocate for moving business forward in our innovation ecosystem.”

While other parents wait up Saturday night for their teenage son or daughter to get home, the McGurns read the paper on Sunday morning to check on downtown Gainesville.

“‘How did downtown do Saturday night? Was everything OK?” she jokes. “Downtown is like our child.”

She and Ken recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They met on a blind date in Fort Bragg, N.C. Four  weeks later, Ken asked her to marry him. They’ve worked together ever since.

“We both have our areas of expertise and trust each other’s advice and judgment, and we rely on each other a lot,” she explains.

He says, “We split our duties. I do the visionary, big thing, and she implements and handles the details. We have a very good partnership. I make all the decisions and she has veto power.”

They bought their first downtown building together in 1978, and in 1986 they completed the renovation of the old Gainesville Sun building now called the Sun Center, which wraps around the west and south sides of the Hippodrome State Theatre. It was part of a larger redevelopment project that won a national award.

When the McGurns aren’t working 12 hours a day, they travel: Antarctica, Bhutan, Egypt, Mongolia, Vietnam, Rwanda.

“We’ve been to  Timbuktu and Katmandu,” Ken jokes. He’s traveled to 120 countries and she’s visited 96. He speaks with admiration of watching Linda muck through a Rwandan jungle while visiting a gorilla colony.

Linda strongly values reproductive freedom.

“I could not be where I am if I had not been able to make the choice not to have children,” she says, adding, “I’m a really great aunt. I think being a mother is harder than anything I do.”

Planned Parenthood was the first nonprofit she volunteered with, back when she was a UF undergrad. She continued volunteering for them for many years and says that is the cause “dearest to my heart.”

The McGurns recently created an endowment for the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has created the McGurn Lecture Series to promote scientific understanding among the general public.

“They’re very interested in science and the pubic understanding of science. Of course, we here at the museum are interested in similar things,” said Director Doug Jones, who counts the McGurns as personal friends. “We are bringing in top-notch scientists who are also motivated to explain what they do to the general public to create broader audiences.”

The McGurns’ gift to the museum is discretionary for the highest priority of the museum at the moment.

“That kind of flexibility is very rare,” says Jones. “They realized from business how important it is to have funding to take advantage of opportunities as they appear. That was extremely forward looking. They understand how organizations are managed and how priorities can shift, and how it’s important to have flexibility. So I always hold them up as some of the most progressive donors we’ve had for that very reason.”

Linda has shared her brilliance and skills with many local organizations, especially the University of Florida.

“She’s a star, especially at UF,” says Leslie Bram, associate vice president at the UF Foundation.

Linda’s served on the Fisher School of Accounting board, she’s on the dean’s advisory council for the Warrington School of Business, and the advisory board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“And she’s spent many years on the Foundation’s board, and served as its chair for two years,” Bram says. “She’s also co-chair of the UF Women’s steering committee. That’s a three-year-old initiative linking women in leadership and philanthropy.

“She’s smart, she’s warm, she’s creative,” adds Bram. “She and Ken are just great citizens. When we moved here in 1989, downtown really didn’t exist. You go out on a Saturday night now, and downtown Gainesville is hopping. That’s because of all the things the McGurns got stared in downtown.

“You name it, she does it. She’s a renaissance woman. You couldn’t have picked anyone more deserving for Woman of Distinction.”