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Former WDI Director Offers Different Reasons For Her Departure

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 21, 2022
Holly Childs
Feeling a lack of feedback and direction from other Wilmington Downtown Inc. officials, Holly Childs left her position as president and CEO of WDI to take a different job, Childs said in a recent interview.

Childs, who took the helm of the organization in January 2020, resigned in May to work in the private sector in West Virginia.

While she didn’t comment publicly in the days immediately after she left, last week Childs shared her perspective on her decision.

Because she felt she lacked metrics related to her job performance from WDI officials, Childs said, “I developed my own metrics and sent them to them and still got no feedback from that. I think for whomever they hire in the future, [they should have] a job description and metrics and regular feedback so it’s not a guessing game, so you’re not trying to read their minds as to what they want.”

WDI Board of Directors Chairwoman Deb Hays, who is also a New Hanover County commissioner, said she can’t comment specifically on Childs’ career at WDI, but said that the organization has “a well-defined evaluation plan, performance plan and compensation plan for the president’s role, which includes metrics, goals and strategies."

At her hiring, Childs said economic development – in other words bringing employers downtown – would be a top priority.

Founded in 1977 as the Downtown Area Revitalization Effort, or D.A.R.E., WDI receives economic development funding from the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County, as well as private donations. The organization also manages Wilmington’s Municipal Services District covering downtown’s Central Business District. In exchange for additional services, CBD property owners pay an additional tax. 

Childs said she thinks it’s important for WDI “to have a unified strategy for what is downtown and what WDI does.”

She said she received pushback from WDI executive committee members as she worked to expand WDI’s reach to areas near but outside the Central Business District, giving an example of when developers announced plans to revamp part of the Soda Pop District last year. 

Loosely defined, the Soda Pop District has been described as including 9th through 11th streets from Chestnut to Market streets.

On Oct. 26 last year, WDI hosted a news conference and meeting with Soda Pop District developers that included members of the media and city and county officials.

During the event, Andy Hewitt and Sandy Thorpe of Parastream Development said they planned to add manufacturing, retail and residential space to the district after buying a former bottling facility and other property in the area for $8 million.

In response Tuesday to a question about WDI’s reach beyond the CBD, Hays and board vice-chairman Spruill Thompson provided a statement attributed to the WDI board’s executive committee. The statement said, “WDI has a wealth of knowledge and dedication on its Executive Committee and Board of Directors, as well as a talented Staff, and is well-positioned to continue its mission of economic growth, development projects and support of our existing downtown business community.

“While WDI’s mission is to focus on the Central Business District, we will continue to work with our partners in the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, Wilmington Business Development, the … Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, community organizations, and local leaders to support adjacent downtown districts and projects.”

Childs said the press release announcing her resignation, issued by WDI, incorrectly stated she had “chosen to return home for family reasons,” prompting concerned phone calls and messages from friends and colleagues when, according to Childs, “it wasn’t about my family.”

Although her family does reside in West Virginia, where her new job is located, the new job “was a great opportunity and it’s wonderful that it’s near my family.” 

In her resignation letter addressed to Hays and dated May 24, Childs wrote, “I am available to continue working at WDI as needed through June 8, 2022 and am pleased to help [other WDI staff] with any assistance that they may need in the transition – whether now or at any time in the future.”

Instead, the May 26 WDI press release on Childs’ departure stated that the resignation was “effective immediately.”

Hays said everything in the WDI release was factual and that WDI “wishes Holly Childs well and great success in any future endeavors.”

Childs also said she wishes the best for WDI. “I love Wilmington and I love downtown. I strongly believe in the mission of the organization, and I wish the best for them.”

Hays and Thompson said the organization is moving forward as it works on whether to seek a local candidate or conduct a national search for a new leader.
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