Five finalists, all from the Pensacola area, are in the running to replace the outgoing Ron Butlin as executive director of the city’s Downtown Improvement Board.
In order of how the board has ranked them, those finalists are Mobile Mini branch Manager Curt Morse, former Pensacola City Council executive Lila Cox, Pensacola Young Professionals operations director Sophia Young, former Pensacola city planner Alan Gray, and former Santa Rosa Island Authority director Buck Lee.
Butlin, who has served as the DIB’s director since 2013, announced in August he would step down, citing family health issues. His last day will be September 30.
An agency of the City of Pensacola, the DIB was established by the Florida Legislature in 1974 to remove blight and guide downtown redevelopment. The agency oversees a 44-block special taxing district which assesses an extra 2 mils on property owners each year.
DIB chairman John Peacock said the board has expressed a desire to hire someone local, a departure from past hires. Both Butlin and his predecessor, Kim Kimbrough, were recruited from other cities. Both men had previously managed downtown-focused organization, experience none of the five current finalists have.
“I think the thought was that there is a lot of talent right here in Pensacola,” said Peacock. “I think we have some very good candidates.”
Regardless of who is chosen, Peacock said that his or her salary will likely be less than that of past directors, pointing to recent changes in the DIB’s portfolio. “We’ve scaled back the events portion a lot,” said Peacock, referring to the DIB’s decision to end its management of the popular Gallery Night event. Business owners have since agreed to carry on the event themselves.
The board has discussed a salary in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, Peacock said, noting that the new director’s compensation could ultimately be higher with possible performance-based incentives. Butlin was paid a salary of $90,000.
Peacock said he hopes to see the DIB and its new director turns its attention toward growing the strong growth momentum that Palafox Street has seen in recent years. “We’ve done a great job on about four blocks, but the DIB is a 44-block district,” Peacock said. “The whole goal is to continue to grow downtown from the inside out.”
The money the DIB saves on overhead, along with additional revenue expected from Quint Studer’s $50 million Daily Convo development, can be redirected toward improving rest of the district, Peacock said. Those improvements could include streetscaping and landscaping, signage and banners, lighting, public art and more.
Individual board members will meet with and interview finalists over the coming weeks, Peacock said. The DIB is expected to meet October 4 to conduct public interviews and make a final selection.
About the finalists
Since 2014, Morse has managed the regional branch of Mobile Mini, a company which rents portable storage containers. Morse previously worked for PODS, a competitor within the same industry, owning and operating a PODS franchise from 2004-2011. Despite Morse’s nontraditional resume, DIB members spoke highly of his passion for Pensacola and relationships with area businesses.
Cox was the Pensacola City Council’s first executive, serving from 2012 until 2014, when she was fired by Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. Cox’s firing, about which Hayward didn’t consult with council members, led the council to amend the city’s charter to allow it to hire and fire its own staff independently of the mayor, a move city voters approved later that year.
Young has served as PYP’s operations director since April 2015, managing the organization’s day to day operations. A graduate of the University of West Florida and Florida State University, Young worked in financial planning before joining PYP.
Gray has worked as a planner for both the City of Pensacola and the West Florida Regional Planning Council. He currently serves as president of First City Development, a consultancy which he owns, and as director of sales and advancement for Pelican Drones.
Lee, a longtime fixture in area politics, served as executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority from 2005 through January of this year. He previously served as a county commissioner in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties and has mounted unsuccessful campaigns for Santa Rosa Supervisor of Elections and Escambia Tax Collector.