Less than three months after its performance was criticized by some City Council members, the agency created 17 years ago to promote the revitalization of downtown Fort Wayne could be seeking new leadership – and, perhaps, a new direction.
Sources indicate that Richard Davis, president of the Downtown Improvement District (DID) since coming here from Rhode Island in 2008, may be replaced as early as today by former Allen County Commissioner Bill Brown. The DID board will meet in closed session followed by an open special meeting to “discuss job performance evaluations and to “receive information about perspective employees” but has not publicly addressed the potential shakeup in a job the currently pays about $105,000 a year.
Board Chairman Charles Heiny would not comment except to say, “I don't know what's going to happen (at the meeting). But the board's duty is to provide strategic direction for the organization, and we take that responsibility seriously.”
Brown and Davis also declined comment, but the success and management the DID – which has an annual budget exceeding $578,000 – has been fodder for open debate since Council President Tom Smith told Davis in March the organization was “doing some things well, but you've got to get beyond where you're at. The DID has been slipping in some of its vitality and maybe some of its benefit.”
Although Council subsequently granted the DID a $150,000 annual contribution – which included an extra $50,000 for capital improvements – Smith and others made it clear the agency had to pick up its game in order to receive Council's authorization to continue operations past its 2015 sunset date. In fact, Council gave Davis six months to show improvement – a probationary period he apparently will not survive.
Some critics have accused the DID of a lack of leadership, marketing and economic development, a poor Web page and other perceived shortcomings. And although Davis has at times been unfairly maligned – his record of accomplishments compares favorably with that of his two predecessors – Brown would give the DID a shot in the arm.
In contrast to the friendly but reserved Davis, Brown is an outgoing and outspoken dynamo who served on the DID board during his one term as Commissioner, which ended in 2010 when he decided not to seek re-election. Brown owns properties downtown and has been a vocal advocate of the need to keep the area and the entire city clean of weeds and debris. As Commissioner, Brown helped the county complete a strategic plan – something the DID is about to undertake. He has also promoted the creation of recreational and business opportunities downtown.
Brown, 61, is CEO of Summit City Electric, based on Hayden Street, and will also be a Republican candidate for Allen County Council at-large in November. He is expected to remain on the ballot even if he becomes DID president. The DID's first president, Paula Hughes, also served on County Council – creating a potential conflict of interest when it comes time to approve the county's contribution to the agency's budget.
I can't say for sure that Council's recent scrutiny of the DID had anything to do with Davis' possible departure; rumors of dissatisfaction among some board members had circulated for months. And Brown's personality and constant desire to try new things should make him a more effective cheerleader than the more-taciturn Davis. In fact, Brown may have to learn how to reign in his boundless and sometimes scattershot enthusiasm, which as Commissioner at times resulted not in accomplishment, but frustration.
But if it's fair to note Davis' shortcomings, it would be equally unfair to ignore his achievements. The DID has coordinated a host of events and parties downtown, overseen an increase in downtown sales taxes of mre than 9 percent in 2011 alone and, working with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, has created the Downtown Development Trust to foster the purchase and redevelopment of land and buildings. In fact, it was Davis and former Alliance President Andi Udris – who was also replaced just a few months ago – who agreed to share office space in an attempt to boost the agencies' profiles while cutting costs.
As Heiny said, there's no sure way to predict the future. But the DID would seem to be in good hands with Bill Brown at the helm.