Today Dot Rhyne, board chairwoman of the Bricktown Association, confirmed that Jeannette Smith is stepping down at the end of this month after a three-year stint as the association’s director.
Smith, who previously worked in management at Penn Square Mall, is going to work for General Growth Properties, which owns Quail Springs Mall and Sooner Fashion Mall.
Smith arrived at a good time for the association – it was transitioning from a shaky model of sponsorships and memberships providing the only funding to a more stable base of funding from the Business Improvement District.
Rhyne provided the following statement on Smith’s departure:
Jeannette brought a strong, high level organizational talent to Bricktown. Under her leadership, and working with the new BID funding, the Bricktown Association was able to tighten up internal processes, restructure its Board of Directors and construct and manage a budget that has resulted in a much healthier Association. Her critical eye for detail and understanding of high level brand and marketing principles played an important role in how Bricktown is viewed to the outside world. She has been a tireless player on Bricktown’s behalf and we appreciate her contributions the past three years.
All of this is true. But Smith also never seemed to match the passion, dedication and connection to the Bricktown community that was demonstrated by her predecessor, Jim Cowan. She was awkward with media interviews, and quickly abandoned the weekly 6 a.m. Friday broadcasts promoting the district that Cowan had launched with the KWTV Bricktown studio years earlier. Without such interaction, the closing of that studio came next, and Bricktown lost a vital weekly opportunity to showcase its events and merchants.
Smith, a very nice woman, just didn’t feel comfortable with the public side of Bricktown. She was an administrator, not a promoter. And combined with the death a few years ago of Bricktown’s original P.T. Barnum, Jim Brewer, the entertainment district has been eclipsed, somewhat, in “buzz” by MidTown, the 16th Street Plaza District, Automobile Alley, and even Film Row. Smith is a very smart, very talented 9-5 administrator in a district that is NOT a 9-5 operation.
Bricktown is at a crossroads. With the hotel room count set to top 1,200 rooms, and with the prospect of hundreds of permanent residents becoming a reality in a couple of years thanks to the east Bricktown development and the conversion of the Mideke building to apartments, Bricktown is set to become a full-time district as it never has been before.
That means that Bricktown, which some already see as a town inside a city, will really be just that. It needs a champion, a promoter, someone who be checking for graffiti and trash daily and immediately getting it cleaned up. Someone who will spot arising crime problems and bring together police, merchants and club owners early to head it off.
There will be, in all likelihood, an effort by Downtown OKC Inc. to take over the administrative operation of the Bricktown BID. Bricktown folks fought this before, instinctively knowing they need a person of their own – that Bricktown is a very different creature from the rest of downtown.
Bricktown needs someone who knows who’s who in the district, who knows the complicated behind-the-scenes politics, the rivalries, the sensitivities, and knows how to balance competing interests. It needs someone who learns from history’s mistakes, and who is eager to learn new tricks and not get stuck in a rut. The district needs to be represented in planning meetings, in discussions over the boulevard, the new convention center and other developments that might have a dramatic impact on its future.
Jim Cowan wasn’t perfect. Heck, I upset him with my coverage on numerous times, but I always understood his reaction came from his love of the district. And with Cowan’s 20-year history in Bricktown, and a passion for its future, I’ve got a hard time naming anyone else with his qualifications (and I’ve been covering Bricktown since the mid-1990s).
Could the Bricktown Association do what it takes to get Cowan back? Can they afford not to?