By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
After a brief search, the Downtown Development Authority has a permanent executive director replacement, following the termination of the former executive director, Glenn Pape, in December.
Reflecting the DDA Personnel Committee’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously to hire Kelly Westbrook for the position. Westbrook had been serving as interim director part-time, 25 hours a week, since January 19. She now holds the position full-time.
“Kelly is an asset to Oxford and the DDA,” said DDA Board Chair Nicole Ellsworth. “She has Oxford roots and the experience and energy we need to put Oxford on the map as a destination. The business owners, community leaders, residents, and the board alike, support Kelly and knew, wholeheartedly, she was the right woman for the job. We look forward to an exciting year!”
The executive director position advocates for the DDA district by promoting public awareness of the Main Street Program, and acting as a liaison to business and property owners, governmental officials and staff, community organizations, and others. Four finalists submitted videos answering “What is Oxford’s biggest asset?” and “What is Oxford’s biggest challenge?”
Westbrook answered, Oxford’s biggest asset is “the community of people who make up this town.”
She said, “When I drive into downtown Oxford, I think of the many strengths that this community has. From its historic buildings to its charming shops and restaurants, Oxford truly makes you feel welcome the moment that you get here.”
Westbrook plans to address Oxford’s challenges through the DDA’s four committees that are already in place: economic vitality, promotions, organization and design. “We need to attract new businesses to the area to help Oxford become more of a walkable town, alleviate the empty buildings, and keep the community engaged.
“We need to help the businesses market their stores, give support to them when they host events, and keep the community aware of what’s going on in downtown Oxford. I plan to meet with each individual business owner to understand their needs and show the DDA’s commitment to them.
“We need to have strong leadership, bridge the relationship gap we’ve experienced, and keep the DDA on track toward Oxford’s initiatives and goals.
“We need to help these small businesses with their grants to clean up the town and make it a warm and inviting place for people who live here and the ones that visit. And we can do that through the process of façade grants, sign grants and awning.”
Westbrook is no stranger to Oxford or downtown. The 2006 OHS graduate was once the Homecoming Queen, and today coaches cheer at the high school. One of her first jobs was at Red Knapp’s American Grill, and ten years ago she helped her mother, Sue Oles, open Boulevard Boutique at 5 S. Washington St. From this experience, she learned what it was like to pour heart and soul into a passion.
“I watched (my mother) grow a business from the ground up,” Westbrook said. “When the pandemic hit last year, I worked with her to set up an ecommerce platform, set up painting classes and change the way she did business. We spent hours researching and filling out grant applications. My heart grew even larger for small businesses in this community.”
After helping the boutique get off the ground, she had a career in corporate sales, beginning with the Detroit Pistons, and later in NASCAR for Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I loved every minute of it, from closing six and seven figure deals, to working on a team of people who were so passionate about what they did.”
She had an opportunity to go back to the sports world a few months ago, but her heart was grounded here in the community. “Having spent my career in sales, I learned to go-go-go all the time, the value of relationships and follow up, and to never stop striving for more. I always want to be better, and that is what I want to instill in our town. This town is wonderful and filled with so many hard working individuals. They deserve the best!”
Still, she “had no idea” what she was getting into when she stepped in as interim director two months ago. The DDA office was in a state of chaos and neglect, with much “clean-up” needed. “There were so many relationships that needed to be healed, people and businesses that needed attention, grants that needed to be filed.”
Nicole Ellsworth and Oxford Village Manger Joe Madore gave her a lot of support. “Everyone from the board members to the staff at the Village offices have truly made the process enjoyable. I set goals for what I wanted to accomplish the first few months, and as a team we are exceeding them.”
Westbrook says this “100 mile per hour” speed will continue. This spring, she is working with MDOT to put the finishing touches on the M-24 project with streetscape work downtown. Meanwhile, the board is approving grants for new awnings, signage and facades for businesses. “I think the residents are really going to be pleased with what downtown looks like by June!”
The DDA is still working toward establishing the “Social District” downtown, which would allow alcohol in public places and “help the walkability in downtown and help drive traffic to the bars, restaurants and storefronts.”
They are booking “larger acts and bands” for Concerts in the Park this summer, and planning a farmers market Thursday nights. She continues to meet with the Economic Vitality Committee to attract new businesses to the area and fill empty buildings.
“I am so honored to be in the position and have the opportunity to serve this town,” she said.