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WDI To Maintain Focus On Economic Development In New CEO Search

By Johanna F. Still, posted Jun 8, 2022

Late last month, Wilmington Downtown Inc. accepted the resignation of its president and CEO Holly Childs, effective immediately. Childs had spent 16 months at the helm of the organization, which shifted its focus to economic development to coincide with her hiring. 

That redirection – which WDI Chairwoman and New Hanover County commissioner Deb Hays describes as more of a “get back to it” – was baked into the initial search and hiring process in 2020 following the resignation of Ed Wolverton, who had served in the role for seven years. 

In March, WDI confirmed it was canceling its long-held Downtown Sundown summer concert series after more than a decade of free shows. At the time, Childs cited changes caused by the pandemic and the goal to direct more business to local concert venues as reasons behind the program’s discontinuance, according to WECT.

With a background in economic development, Childs helped steer WDI in a more business-centric direction, and campaigned for the public-private partnership Project Grace, worked with developers to revitalize the Soda Pop District and more. 

Economic development of the downtown area, specifically the central business district, which is boosted by municipal service district taxes, “has always been the mission of Wilmington Downtown Inc.,” Hays said. WDI’s staff and board was focused on this mission in hiring Childs and “we will be equally focused on that with this hiring process,” Hays said. 

Asked if there were problems at the organization prior to Childs’ sudden resignation, Hays said, “I don't know why you would think that. When people resign, they’re usually ready to make a change, got something different going on, decided that they needed to be somewhere else. In this case, Holly has chosen to return back to West Virginia for family reasons, and again we wish her very well in that.”

Childs did not respond to a request for comment. In a press release, WDI announced Childs had chosen to return home for family reasons. “We wish her very well in any future endeavors that she has,” Hays said

With no CEO, WDI’s staff is now limited to one full-time employee and an intern. Hays said she has full confidence in the staff and its support network as the organization prepares for new leadership. “We're moving forward. I have great confidence in our executive committee and their strength that will keep us moving forward in a very positive direction until we can find the right person to be in the CEO position,” she said. 

As of last week, no specific timeline for the search had been developed and no position was officially posted online, according to Hays. In the past, WDI used a strategic team comprising local area leaders in the search rather than a search firm, but Hays said this too had not been decided on for the current process. 

“We will be putting a plan together,” she said. “There may be some local, regional or state opportunities that we may look at, and if we don’t find someone that is of the caliber we need and want, then we will more than likely expand our search.”

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