Downtown Dover Partnership hires familiar face as executive director

DOVER — It might be a different view from what Diane Laird is accustomed to, but the view from the top of the Downtown Dover Partnership appears to be one that’s right up her alley.

The DDP’s board of directors announced Wednesday that Ms. Laird will become the organization’s new executive director, officially starting the job on Sept. 10.

Ms. Laird has served on the DDP board of directors and worked with city leadership to improve downtown Dover for eight years.

She said she is excited to take over in her new expanded role while watching the DDP grow over the past decade after the Downtown Dover Development Corporation, Main Street Dover and the Dover Parking Authority merged to form the DDP in July 2008.

“Over time I have seen the Downtown Dover Partnership evolve into an increasingly advanced organization taking on more complex projects, such as community-initiated development and the Dover Capital City market that successfully provides for needs among a very diverse population,” Ms. Laird said.

As the executive director of the DDP, she will lead a downtown revitalization organization comprised almost wholly of volunteers from the local and state government, nearby educational institutions, tourism and economic development partners, business and property owners and residents of Dover.

Ms. Laird said she believes the city is on the right track towards revitalization and is excited to be an even bigger part of it all.

She added that it will take teamwork to find true success but is confident it will eventually happen.

“Going forward, the DDP is poised to play a key role in guiding revitalization efforts in concert with its dedicated and capable staff, its volunteers and many partners, including the city, Wesley College and Bayhealth, Kent County Tourism, the Kent Economic Partnership, downtown merchants, residents and stakeholders, and NCALL, through its Restoring Central Dover strategy,” Ms. Laird said. “I am very excited about being an integral part of it all.”

She succeeds Maureen Feeney Roser, who has served as interim executive director of the DDP since Feb. 1.

Joan Cote was the organization’s last full-time executive director, filling the role from Aug. 31, 2016, until Jan. 15 this year, when she submitted her resignation to the DDP board of directors.

Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the DDP, said at the time that she wasn’t surprised by Ms. Cote’s resignation.

“I understood her reasonings why,” she said. “She explained her reasonings why and you never fault a person for a decision to move on to a better opportunity or make a life change, whatever the case may be. You just have to respect their decision.”

When Ms. Cote was hired, she said downtown Dover had everything in place to achieve success.

“You need to capitalize on Dover’s unique strength to benefit its citizens,” Ms. Cote said. “There’s so many (other) downtown areas that don’t have the various pieces of the puzzle that we have – the historical aspect of it, the shops that are already here, the potential for new, diverse, unique merchants that we can bring in to downtown Dover.

“The DDP has historically done some great things. They’ve provided more parking spots, they’ve provided more lighting and a lot more of that is going to come.”

Now it is going to have to come under the direction of a new leader.

Ms. Laird brings more than 20 years of experience and leadership in downtown revitalization and small business development to her new role with the DDP.

She has served on the National Main Street executive council and, since 1998, served as state coordinator for Downtown Delaware, a community revitalization resource center within the Division of Small Business, a division of the Delaware Secretary of State.

In her role, Ms. Laird secured more than $500,000 in USDA grants and coordinated and delivered technical services and resources to 16 accredited and affiliated Main Street communities statewide, while providing support to downtown entrepreneurs and small business owners.

“My years of service to the Downtown Delaware program as coordinator were a labor of love,” she said. “They showed me the impact of volunteer-driven, local revitalization efforts and strategies and particularly their impact on business development, vacancy reduction, and building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development.”

Officials with the DDP said that, “Ms. Laird has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit organizational development and downtown business recruitment/retention/expansion strategies, as well as extensive experience in professional commercial interior/facade design, always with an eye toward preserving the history, culture and pedestrian-scale of the downtown built environment.”

Anita Evans, chair of the DDP’s board of directors, said Ms. Laird was a natural fit after the organization after it considered candidates both locally and nationally for the position.

“We are delighted that Diane (Laird) is joining the DDP as our new executive director,” Mrs. Evans said. “Her experience with Main Street programs and strong background in economic development, non-profit management, and design and marketing strategies are assets to the organization.

“We’re looking forward to Diane’s leadership in the continued enhancement of downtown Dover.”

On its website, the DDP says it is “committed to provide our residents, businesses and visitors with a great place in which to visit, shop, live and work as evidenced by our Vision, Mission, and Critical Success Factors.”

Diane Laird

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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