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Posted on Wed. Jan. 23, 2013 - 12:15 am EDT

DID interim director unanimous choice to stay

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FORT WAYNE — The Downtown Improvement District board voted unanimously Tuesday to make interim director Bill Brown’s appointment permanent.

The previous executive director, Rich Davis, resigned June 7 and Brown was appointed interim director. A search committee considered 19 applications and interviewed three candidates, including Brown, before making him a job offer.

Zach Benedict, who headed the search committee, said Brown’s passion for downtown made him the obvious choice.

“He’s been practicing what he’s been preaching for a couple of decades now,” Benedict said.

Brown will be paid $78,500 a year, the same as he made as interim director, but he will not be offered health insurance, because he gets county health insurance as an Allen County Council member. Davis was paid $105,000 annually.

Board member Joe Francis said the route to a new director was difficult but well worth it.

“It feels like a long, drawn-out process,” Francis said. “But let’s not let our exhaustion with the process detract from celebrating the appointment of a great executive director who loves downtown very much.”

Brown, a former county commissioner who also celebrated his 62nd birthday Tuesday, said he most looks forward to the opportunities presented by a reinvigorated downtown.

“It’s an exciting time for downtown. We have momentum,” Brown said.

Parking discussion

While the final decision on Brown took just a few minutes Tuesday, the board spent much more time discussing a proposal to double the rates charged by parking meters.

The district was hoping for a more comprehensive update of the downtown parking situation, including on warning tickets for first-time offenders and free parking the first Friday of the month, but board member Greg Leatherman warned that failing to support any improvement while waiting for something better could mean no improvement at all.

The Board of Public Safety proposed in December that meter rates be doubled to 50 cents per hour; that proposal was introduced to the City Council on Tuesday evening.

Most district board members praised the move, saying meter rates need to be raised to levels where they make parking garages and private lots competitive – so that employees who work downtown will park there instead of on the street. But they urged that the city’s parking enforcement also begin chalking tires to ensure that people don’t just keep feeding the meter and leave their car parked beyond the stated time limit.

Employees parking all day take up spots that should be for people going downtown to shop or eat, they said.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people park on the street for eight hours,” Leatherman said. “We’ve got to put a stop to it or we’ll never have the turnover to retail that we want. I realize getting a ticket is painful, but at least then you have a chance of getting a spot.”

Lona Antil said tickets are more than just painful.

“For a small business, (a customer) getting a ticket is just like a kick, saying ‘Don’t come back,’ ” she said.

Charles Heiny, board chairman, said those parking all day at a meter can’t be blamed for taking advantage of a system that discourages them from parking elsewhere. Tickets for parking meters used to be $5 – less than parking all day in a garage or lot – but the City Council doubled the fines last month.

After hearing the city was still considering other ideas, such as warning tickets, the board voted unanimously to support the increase.

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