Re-engergized KDA selects new board leadership
March 18, 2009 · Updated 2:25 PM
Kirkland Downtown Association (KDA) board members voted in a new Executive Board at their March 4 annual membership meeting, re-energizing a key community voice in one of Kirkland’s most visible and popular neighborhoods.
They selected Heathman Hotel General Manager Les Utley to serve as President; Paula Heddle from pet boutique Barkz as co-Vice President; Kirkland Lodge’s Jason Brooks as co-Vice President; Banner Bank’s David Debois as Treasurer and Bonnie McLeod of McLeod Insurance as Secretary.
A hotelier since 1982, the well-traveled Utley has lived in San Antonio, Tex., New York City, St. Louis, Mo. and as far away as South Korea while working for the Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts. But these days, his commute takes him a few minutes at most - depending on how many times the elevator stops on the way down from his Kirkland condo.
Observing that the KDA had a lot of work to do during a slowing economy, he pointed out both
Heddle and Debois took active roles in earlier this year in indepedent efforts to re-vitalize downtown businesses, efforts that he’s now seeking to bring to bear through the KDA.
“There’s a lot of passion and new energy on our board,” Utley said. “We need to take the energy of all of these interests and bring them all together.”
The new KDA president takes over from Dr. Kevin Leathers of Marina Park Chiropractic. For one of their first orders of business, the KDA will focus on redefining the Executive Director position and re-establish the communication and credibility of the organization in the eyes of the public.
“Dick and Julie did a really great job,” Utley said. “Now we have a chance to step back and best determine how we can meet the needs of the downtown.”
He wouldn’t say when he expected to fill the position, at around twelve applicants have already approached the board and expressed their interest in serving as head of the organization’s day-to-day operations. The KDA is a non-profit organization which means to promote, beautify, organize and preserve the historic downtown area.
Utley pointed out several positive initiatives by the KDA in the past that helped keep the energy flowing in the downtown area, such as sponsorships for the decorative flower pots, live music and extended shopping hours for Thursday “Jazz Nights”, the community volunteer “Clean Sweep” program and last year’s Christmas Tree decoration and lighting. But he said many in the community didn’t realize the KDA was behind such efforts and complained the organization didn’t accomplish anything.
“This is a challenging economy,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to our stakeholders and let them know what we’ve done. We’ve got to re-establish that credibility and accountability.”
The new president outlined a number of new initiatives, including reduced rent “incubator” spaces to help new businesses and getting landlords of vacant storefronts to decorate empty storefronts with art from local galleries.
“At least something to decorate and fill the spaces so they don’t sit completely vacant,” he said.
Utley said the KDA is also seeking to quickly fill a number of board vacancies, with the goal of representing the diversity of voices in the downtown core. Some of the diversity they seek are neighbors and condo residents, property owners, retailers, restaurants and salons who are willing to volunteer their time to improve the neighborhood. Those interested are encouraged to send letters of interest to KDA Secretary Bonnie McLeod at bonnie@McLeodIns.com.