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WDI Looks Within, Isn't Conducting Outside Search For New CEO

By Cece Nunn, posted Oct 14, 2022
Wilmington Downtown Inc. officials will look within the organization rather than conducting a search for a new president and CEO after the last person to hold the top role resigned in May.

WDI’s executive committee voted unanimously at its September meeting to potentially look at the organization’s only staff member (other than interns) and vice president of marketing and business outreach, Christina Haley, for the position of president rather than looking for outside candidates, members said.

“Due to the fact that we have such great talent on staff, the executive committee has decided not to engage at this time in an exhaustive and expensive search,” executive committee chairwoman Deb Hays said this week.

Haley, a University of North Carolina Wilmington graduate, former reporter for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and former assistant managing editor of Port City Daily, joined WDI in September last year. Hays said Haley has stepped up to take on more of the responsibilities of running the organization after the resignation of previous president and CEO Holly Childs. 

“The executive committee has been so overwhelmingly pleased with the dedication, commitment and vision of our current staff, primarily the leadership of Christina Haley in the vice president position, that we want to afford her the opportunity to grow into the role of president,” Hays said.

Haley, whose UNCW degree was in philosophy and religious studies, will receive training in the area of economic development, group officials said.

“Our executive committee is a very experienced and focused group. They have been taking on a lot of the direction and leadership for the organization,” Haley said Thursday. “I have been implementing their plans, and I have worked to manage and expand all the great services and programs we provide downtown.”

She added, “There is a plan for me to move forward with more training and certifications to continue to develop my experience in economic development.”

The executive committee has not set an exact timeline on when Haley would move into the president’s role.

Childs was hired after a lengthy search following the departure of her predecessor, Ed Wolverton. According to the release announcing Childs’ hiring in December 2020, the CEO search process led by then-WDI chairman Dane Scalise and past chair Colin Tarrant involved over three months “of deliberate and thoughtful work by the committee, including numerous rounds of candidate interviews and presentations. The committee’s final – and unanimous – recommendation was to bring Holly to Wilmington. WDI’s Executive Committee then interviewed with Holly and made a unanimous recommendation to the WDI Board of Directors that she be hired immediately.”

After taking the helm of WDI in January 2020, Childs left the position this year to work in the private sector in West Virginia, where she worked previously. In an interview in June, Childs cited a lack of feedback and direction from WDI officials as the main reasons behind her departure.

The hiring of Childs marked an emphasis on economic development by WDI, officials said at the time. That emphasis is still in place, according to Hays and other members of the executive committee.

“We are consistently working with entrepreneurs, business consultants, etc. … to help find the right properties for their clients in our thriving downtown area,” Hays said in an email outlining WDI’s current efforts. “We have been announcing new businesses coming into our downtown, and have two more coming up shortly, and hold ribbon-cuttings and grand openings to help showcase their businesses.”

WDI manages some public funds through what is now a five-year contract with the city of Wilmington to operate its downtown Municipal Services District. Properties within the MSD, which comprises downtown’s Central Business District, pay an additional tax of 7 cents per $100 of property value for additional services beyond what is provided to the rest of the city’s taxpayers. Those services are expected to include, according to the city’s website:

●    Ambassadors for additional safety and security
●    Supplemental cleaning
●    Amenities for enhanced beautification
●    Enhanced economic development
●    Targeted marketing and branding

“It is part of WDI Executive Committee’s role to oversee the MSD, with Staff (both WDI and the contracted MSD Staff) to execute the plan as per the contract,” Hays said in the email.

For the first year of WDI’s latest MSD operations contract, the funding totals about $563,000, according to city documents.

Providing more details about WDI’s goals, Hays said in the email that WDI has also been working with business owners “to expand our reach with our WDI-run programs, including the Mircoloan Program and Facade Improvement Grant Program. More grant announcements will be coming soon.”

Jean Lawler, who serves as secretary on WDI’s executive committee, pointed out other WDI efforts.

“We’re working real hard on the homeless situation downtown and we’ve got so many small businesses that are coming back after COVID,” Lawler said, “that we’re really, really trying to make downtown really vibrant.”

 
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