After months of searching and interviewing candidates, it appears the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is finally going to have an executive director again.
On Monday night, the DDA board voted 7-0 to offer the position to Stephen Holowicki, a resident of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and negotiate a contract.
Two DDA board members, Rod Charles and Regina Woodson, were present at the meeting, but chose not to vote. More on that later.
“I really do love downtown revitalization,” Holowicki said. “It’s been in my blood for a long time.”
The DDA has been without a director since early February when Joe Frost resigned to take a position with Main Street Oakland County. He had been on the job since July 2015.
Holowicki, a Livonia native, is currently employed as a redevelopment administrator for the City of Zanesville in Ohio. He began working there last year.
He was one of two candidates interviewed Friday evening during a special DDA meeting. The other was Rochester resident Suzanne Wiggins, who recently worked as a program consultant for Keep Genesee County Beautiful.
Five of the DDA board’s nine members were present for this special meeting.
Chairperson Sue Bossardet, Sam Barna, Pete Scholz, Elgin Nichols and Dorothy Johnston conducted the interviews.
The interviews were videotaped by Oxford Community Television and posted on YouTube so the absent members – Charles, Woodson, Geno Mallia, Jr. and Susan Schurr – could have the opportunity to watch them prior to Monday’s regular meeting.
The reason a special meeting was convened, even though nearly half of the board could not attend, was due to “the availability of the applicants, one of which [Holowicki] is coming from out of town and is not available on Monday (for the regular meeting),” according to a May 10 e-mail sent by Bossardet.
Woodson didn’t vote on Monday night because she had not viewed the video.
“I did not have a chance to see it,” she explained. “I just got to the office around 3:30 p.m. But I will look at it tomorrow.”
Charles, on the other hand, didn’t vote because he was upset about the way things were done.
“I’m not going to watch a video,” he said. “I think the process is illegitimate and disrespectful – disrespectful (to) everybody on the board, disrespectful (to) the entire community of Oxford.”
“I’m not going to vote on a process that’s illegitimate,” said Charles when it came time for him to cast his vote.
Johnston explained the intention behind the special meeting and video availability was not to exclude or disrespect anyone.
“It is unfortunate you guys weren’t able to make it, but nothing was deliberately done, if that’s the feeling,” she said. “There is no agenda here other than to get somebody in that (director) seat.”
Johnston stressed how important she believes it is for the DDA to fill the vacant directorship as soon as possible.
“We’re really anxious to get somebody in that seat because there’s a micro-group of people doing all the work,” she said. “We really need somebody in there, whether it’s a full-time director or we pay somebody part-time. We need somebody in that seat. It is kind of urgent, I think.”
Holowicki has a master’s degree in urban planning and regional planning from Eastern Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree in math from Wayne State University (WSU).
“I’ve only been in Zanesville for seven months, but my prior experience to that was good preparation (for the DDA director position),” he told the board.
Holowicki worked as a planner for the Buckeye-Shaker/Lee-Harvard Community Development Corporations in Cleveland (2013-16) and the Two Rivers Regional Council in Quincy, Illinois (2011-13).
Prior to his career in planning, Holowicki taught math at the high school level for 10 years.
His past work experience includes grant writing, economic development, historic preservation, housing rehabilitation, downtown revitalization, developing a $500,000 facade improvement program, writing master plans and zoning ordinances, streetscape improvements, marketing vacant properties, and drafting press releases and public notices.
“I’m a very good problem-solver,” he said. “I’m not an expert at anything. (I) don’t profess to be an expert at anything, but I have (a) very strong historic preservation background. I’m good at finding economic incentives to tie in the economic development (side) with the preservation (side) to promote mixed use and development.”
Holowicki explained to the board his interest in preserving buildings and revitalizing downtowns was partly sparked during his years studying at WSU in downtown Detroit.
At the time, he said there were a lot of “gorgeous buildings” in that area that were “empty and distressed, but you could tell (by the level of detail) that there was once a very economically robust community” there.
Now, whenever Holowicki sees “a distressed or dilapidated building or a historic structure or even an empty lot,” he envisions the possibilities of what it could become.
“That’s what motivates me. That drives me,” he said.
The DDA board members who conducted the interview were impressed by Holowicki.
“I think Steve is extremely knowledgable. He just exudes confidence and it rolls off his tongue when you ask him a question,” Barna said. “I do like his personality as well. I think he’d get the job done . . . I think he is someone who is very resourceful.”
Of the two candidates, Scholz sees Holowicki as having “more tenacity” when it comes to staying on task and getting things done.
Johnston agreed. “I think that he is the bulldog of the two,” she said.
“I like the fact that he’s gotten several grants,” Bossardet noted.
She also believes Holowicki is best suited to spur needed development within the DDA district.
“We do have multiple empty buildings and empty lots. That somewhat concerns me,” Bossardet said.
Given his master’s degree and previous work experience, Nichols wondered, “Are we going to hire somebody that’s going to be gone in about six months?”
“We asked all of the people that we interviewed if they’d make a three-year commitment and they all did say yes,” Bossardet replied.
Since 2003, the DDA has had six executive directors. Four resigned for other positions, one quit to start a family and one was chopped due to budget cuts.