We investigate how the holographic correspondence can be reformulated as a generalization of Wilsonian renormalization group (RG) flow in a strongly interacting large-N quantum field theory. We first define a highly efficient RG flow as one in which the Ward identities related to local conservation of energy, momentum and charges preserve the same form at each scale. To achieve this, it is necessary to redefine the background metric and external sources at each scale as functionals of the effective single-trace operators. These redefinitions also absorb the contributions of the multitrace operators to these effective Ward identities. Thus, the background metric and external sources become effectively dynamical, reproducing the dual classical gravity equations in one higher dimension. Here, we focus on reconstructing the pure gravity sector as a highly efficient RG flow of the energy-momentum tensor operator, leaving the explicit constructive field theory approach for generating such RG flows to the second part of the work. We show that special symmetries of the highly efficient RG flows carry information through which we can decode the gauge fixing of bulk diffeomorphisms in the corresponding gravity equations. We also show that the highly efficient RG flow which reproduces a given classical gravity theory in a given gauge is unique provided the endpoint can be transformed to a nonrelativistic fixed point with a finite number of parameters under a universal rescaling. The results obtained here are used in the second part of this work, where we do an explicit field-theoretic construction of the RG flow and obtain the dual classical gravity theory.