Meet Holly Childs, the brand new President of WDI

Holly Childs will take over as President of WDI on January 4th. (Port City Daily / Courtesy Photo)

WILMINGTON – “Tangible Results” are at the heart of Holly Childs’ work ethic. It’s what she hopes to bring to Wilmington when she takes over the presidency of Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI) in January.

WDI focuses on economic development and the design of the city center with sustainable business and real estate growth. It also promotes the inner city for visitors, tourists and residents, works to preserve its historical character, acts as a liaison between various stakeholders and supports existing businesses in the inner city with safety initiatives, programs, events, finances and advertising.

Childs has previously held leadership positions in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Phoenix, focusing on downtown business attractiveness, urban development and redevelopment, and complex project financing. She has overseen the rehabilitation of devastated neighborhoods, a LEED Gold-certified corporate headquarters valued at $ 322 million, and the planning and development of a 1,000-acre mixed-use business and retail park. The development, according to Childs, included corporate and technology offices, retail and future residential buildings connected by bike / pedestrian paths and green spaces.

“It’s much more than just developing a business park or a lifestyle center. It creates a community asset and an employment center, ”she said. “That’s exactly the kind of impact I want my work here in Wilmington to have.”

Port City Daily interviewed Childs about her experiences, hobbies, likes and dislikes, but most importantly about her vision for downtown Wilmington as she settled in her new hometown and position.

Port City Daily (PCD): Tell us where you are moving from and what drew you to Wilmington in addition to the job at WDI.
Holly Childs (HC): I just moved from Morgantown, West Virginia, this week, where I’ve worked for a public development agency, public-private commercial development organization, and private commercial real estate development company for the past eight years. I had previously moved from Pittsburgh to Morgantown to be close to my family in 2013 when I had three teenagers, but now they’re all young adults living alone. So it was time for me to reassess my empty nest and decide where to go next all by myself.

I’m actually returning to North Carolina as I was both born here (while my father was stationed at Fort Bragg) and educated here (I’m a graduate of Wake Forest University). My family have vacationed here many times over the years too, and Wilmington has incredible energy – it really attracts people.

PCD: Tell us about your family.
HC: My greatest love is my family with three grown children: a daughter who graduated with a Masters degree in social work and is getting married shortly after Christmas and identical twin sons – one in college studying mechanical engineering and the other an intelligence analyst in the US Army. They are wonderful people and I couldn’t be more proud of each of them who they are made for.

PCD: What were your first impressions of Downtown Wilmington?
HC: Downtown Wilmington is amazing! There is so much to love here – the arts, culture and education facilities of a big city, but with a much less dense population and at a much cheaper price. Wilmington has so many great assets: the Riverwalk, Historic District, museums and art galleries, performing arts venues, restaurants and breweries, and nearby beaches. The list just keeps growing [with] Reasons Wilmington is a great place to live and work.

The people I met during the WDI interview process [Childs was interviewed by WDI board members] The past three months have been incredibly warm and welcoming, and personally I’m very excited that I have just moved to my new home in downtown Brooklyn Arts District.

PCD: How will your previous work affect your job in Wilmington?
HC: I think my previous positions each made a decisive contribution to who I am and what I plan to do in my new role as a leading WDI.

I have a strong sense for sustainable projects. My thesis was in environmental economics and I am LEED accredited for environmentally friendly building and construction. Therefore, principles of sustainable design definitely shape my work. I also have a real passion for engineering jobs – both through entrepreneurial support and business appeal. Most recently, I worked with Leidos, a Fortune 500 technology company, developing an integrated corporate campus to support 250 new software engineering jobs.

Over the past three months I’ve started reading more about Wilmington and the entrepreneurship support infrastructure that is being built here by groups like Genesis Block ILM and the Network for Entrepreneurs (NEW). These are very impressive initiatives and I look forward to developing these partnerships to create new jobs and opportunities for everyone.

PCD: What are some of the first economic or other goals you would like to achieve for our historic district?
HC: WDI has more than 40 years of history of helping downtown Wilmington grow. In recent years this work program has been heavily geared towards events in the city center. My mission – and the clear direction of the WDI Board of Directors – is to focus the majority of WDI’s attention and resources on real economic development: creating new jobs and investing in our inner city.

My first priority is to build strong relationships because without them nothing is done. Hence, I will focus on partnerships with existing developers, financial institutions, other development / business organizations (Chamber, Wilmington Business Development), universities / colleges (UNCW, CFCC), hospitals (New Hanover Regional Medical Center) and churches. Museums, historical societies and public institutions. Building trusting relationships is critical to great development.

PCD: Do you have any ideas to share about new types of jobs or businesses that you want to bring to downtown Wilmington to help our city grow?
HC: I think technical and entrepreneurial jobs will be our top priority as we continue to grow the base of young people who live and work downtown, which in turn supports all of our existing small businesses like boutiques, restaurants and breweries. As the inner city population continues to grow, WDI must base our economic strategy on increasing local trade in goods and services to support that growth, such as a grocery store in the city center and other services that keep money in the city center.

PCD: Can you tell us how you have worked for other cities between the public and private sectors and what have these results produced?
HC: At this point in my career, I’ve spent about two-thirds of my career in the public sector doing economic development work and a third doing private commercial property development, and these sectors need each other to move forward: is not a meaningful economic development project more “completely public” or “completely private”. All projects need passionate, dedicated leadership, and that requires a public-private team.

I’ve personally worked on a number of projects with very complex planning, funding and development structures – from engaging the community in planning workshops for local contributions at the beginning of the process, to developing plans and budgets, and finding funding, to managing of architectures, tenders and contracts for engineering and construction throughout the development. Completion of these projects takes years of focused effort. However, if done properly, assets can be created that will last for generations: baseball parks and community centers, corporate headquarters, technology incubators, downtown retail and lifestyle hubs – the specific end goal is community-driven as it is should.

PCD: What are your hobbies?
HC: I love to cook, read, ride my peloton, and run / hike. I’m also a huge wine lover, which leads me to start book clubs that ultimately include wine and food with friends.

PCD: Favorite Food? Music? Movies?
HC: I like Mediterranean food and seafood as well as Latin American dishes – all fresh and tasty, and I’ve already started doing my rounds in Wilmington (new big fan of Savorez). My playlist (and vinyl collection) is pretty eclectic: Norah Jones, Prince, Kings of Leon, U2, John Mayer, DMB, John Coltrane, Iron & Wine, and Etta James. For movies, I definitely like suspense / thriller unless (as is so often the case this year) I just need a feel-good movie to restore my happiness.

PCD: greatest fear?
HC: Definitely grandfather long legs. Although, to be honest, I’m pretty concerned about future palmetto bugs.

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