Love of downtown Dover drives Cote

The new executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership, Joan Cote, stands on Loockerman Street in Dover. (Delaware State News/Joan Cote)

The new executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership, Joan Cote, stands on Loockerman Street in Dover. (Delaware State News/Joan Cote)

DOVER — When it comes to leading a successful organization, Joan Cote insists that it’s never just about her, it’s all about building relationships and surrounding herself with good people.

That is exactly what Ms. Cote has in mind for the Downtown Dover Partnership after she was hired as its new executive director on Aug. 31.

“I’m extremely excited,” she said. “I consider myself extremely blessed to be given this opportunity. There are just so many facets to this job and I haven’t even been in it 30 days yet. So every day is something new and a new kind of layer to what the DDP’s responsibilities are and how to improve the city.”

Ms. Cote was chosen for the position out of a pool of more than 30 applicants.

The Downtown Dover Partnership, which was formed in 2008, is a group made of volunteers whose primary goal is to bring jobs and businesses to the downtown area.

Ms. Cote has taken her new job by the horns.

“For me, what I’m doing probably for the first six months of this job is going to be fact-finding and getting information,” she said. “I want to hear from everyone.

“I want to hear from citizens, merchants, politicians, all the way to the state level and find out exactly where are our successes, where are our challenges and how do we get to the end result that we want?”

Ms. Cote comes to the DDP after working for a quarter century for USO Delaware. She is the founder of the first United Service Organization on Dover Air Force Base but she is most proud of the fact that she developed the Families of the Fallen Heroes center on the base.

She believes all of those experiences she has had with the military will help her greatly when it comes to her new position.

“It’s a very unique position to be in after working 25 years supporting our military, to now serving another group of people,” Ms. Cote said. “That’s obviously everything from the merchants to the citizens that come here to shop, or recreate or come here to have meals … and then you also have to look at the historical part of Dover.

“Obviously, running a nonprofit for all those years, you’re more successful because of the relationship-building. I think that was a great asset for me to bring here, too, because a lot of the people that are involved with downtown had a relationship with me in my previous career.”

There’s no doubt the military has helped shape Ms. Cote’s life.

She was born in Quantico, Virginia, to parents who were in the Marine Corps and her former husband served as an Air Force pilot who got transferred from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to DAFB in 1988.

She joked that after she was divorced in 1993 that most of her family and friends assumed she would move to Massachusetts since that’s where most of her four siblings reside.

That never happened because of her enduring love of Dover.

“I love it here. I really love it here,” she said. “Just how beautiful the trees are downtown, how hard the city works on the flower beds and how beautiful it is when spring comes. Then you can look at the lights when Christmastime rolls around and see how beautiful downtown is.”

Ms. Cote says downtown Dover has all of the ingredients needed to transform into a thriving area of business and residential areas.

“You need to capitalize on Dover’s unique strength to benefit its citizens,” she said. “There’s so many 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.”

Ms. Cote, who has been recognized by President Barack Obama and senior officials for the support she has given to the military, said she relies greatly on first-hand experience when seeing exactly what can be done to improve the city.

“I’ve never had an issue with parking, with security, and I think that one of my No. 1 projects is to make sure we’re marketing what we have down here because a lot of it is people’s perceptions,” said Ms. Cote. “Sometimes perceptions aren’t reality.

“Those were some of the things that I talked about to the board when we were discussing me taking this job over. They said ‘What do you know about Dover?’ and I said, ‘My own experiences down here have always been great, but what you hear on the outskirts are there’s no place to park and other issues and they’re just not true.’”

To her, communication is paramount.

That much was obvious when she found out the DDP and the Dover Police Department were planning to host separate Halloween events downtown on the same day.

She made sure she got in touch with the police department and now they have partnered together for the first time and will host a Halloween parade and celebration on Friday, Oct. 28.

There will be a parade down Loockerman Street, a costume contest and a showing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

That is the kind of collaboration that is needed in order for Dover to sparkle, she said.

“I want to be the person that can kind of circle the wagons and find our way forward,” Ms. Cote said. “All the pieces of the puzzle to make Dover incredible are there, I just think they needed just a little bit of guidance of someone coming from the outside. I bring a fresh perspective.

“I think the citizens would be pleased and surprised at the amount of people involved with trying to make this a better city on so many different levels. It really is amazing.”

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

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