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Q&A with Outgoing Community Development Director Rich Brown

Brown to retire June 21 following more than six years with the City of Santa Fe

After a 6 1/2 year stint with the City of Santa Fe, Community Development Director Richard Brown will retire June 21. Before joining the city, Brown worked in the private sector for roughly 40 years in roles ranging from a sales executive to a travel director in the hospitality industry. He moved from San Francisco to Santa Fe in 2017. He married New Mexico Senate Democrats Communications Director Chris Nordstrum in 2008, but the couple has been together for a total of 28 years. They have one son.

City officials bid farewell to Brown during a Coffee and Collab Gathering June 6 at the Farmer’s Market Pavillion.

Brown tells SFR he will be involved in the selection process for an interim director from his current staff and adds he, City Manager John Blair and Mayor Alan Webber are “hoping to launch the official recruitment” for the position by the end of the week.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been with the City of Santa Fe through some challenging times. What can you say about your experience during your tenure?

My time and my work with the city has been very enjoyable. It’s all been very engaging. I’ve met thousands of people, and we’ve seen all kinds of innovative progress from a standpoint of entrepreneurship, business development, small business engagement, nonprofits and resources coming together to help those who are trying to grow business, and also just the building of community and creating some content that allow more people to know what there is to offer. Those are just the bigger, bigger picture. Additionally, there has been Midtown and its redevelopment. There have been opportunity zones. There have been all the things that we address, from a determinant of health for COVID, where I was involved with the food security and business resiliency, and the myriad of things that have to do with workforce development. As we got out of COVID, I was involved in working with the public school systems to use federal dollars to create the work-based learning program that we have right now, that I think has helped 300 students, and I think we’re moving into 100 more going into the new year. It’s been a really incredible journey.

Is there a certain project that comes to mind that you’re most proud of or taught you the most?

I think the first and biggest one right now is Midtown and its redevelopment, going from a site that we purchased back in 2018 to having a master plan and a zoning plan and a community development plan and moving it into an infrastructure phase where we will start to see shovels on the campus over the next three years. Secondly is creating the Community Development Department and getting the right folks at the director level to sort of run those departments. To me, it is a great thing that we have really great people who are going to take the banner and run with it from me. Lastly, I think the other major, massive piece is probably just all the work we did under COVID and sort of keeping our city prepared to come back at the end of it. I think that was a key thing for us.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m gonna take the first six months just to decompress, but over the last couple months that I’ve announced my retirement, there’s been lots of organizations and people who reached out to me to say, ‘Hey, based upon what you’ve done and where you are and what you do, we’d love to just have coffee with you to talk about what you might want to pursue in the future.’ This is a real age-based retirement, right? I’ll be 65 next week, so I’m retiring because I think it’s time, but at the same time, I have all these other personal pursuits I’d like to do. I’m very deeply invested in this community, so I know that probably by the end of next year, I’ll probably be doing some volunteer work. I’m also currently a board member of the Empower! Black Communities Fund’s advisory committee at the Santa Fe Community Foundation, but there are so many different avenues and opportunities that I could pursue based upon what I’ve learned, who I’ve connected to, and what I’ve brought to the table. There’s just a whole vast notion of things that I just want to take my time to figure out first.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the Community Development Department after you leave?

I would say that my hopes and desires are that the people that I’ve hired on as leadership stay on, because my goal was to integrate these departments so that we would be more entrepreneurial, and we focus on quality of life; we focus on economic development and innovation and mobility. There are a lot of folks who need a pathway to growth, being able to buy a house, being able to succeed and finding a great job, so I’m hoping that the folks who are leaders there now will continue [with]things that we’re working on. I think they can handle and take care of the things I’m leaving behind. I also think that community development is not a short-game responsibility. It’s a long-game responsibility, so we will see the effects of work-based learning in the next three or four years. We’ll see the effects of the Midtown development in three to four years; we’ll see the development of all the work we’re doing in land use, with process improvement and technology tools in three to four years; we’ll see the development of what we’re doing in arts and culture, of expanding into the creative industry, or expanding into areas where we haven’t reached out to our immigrant or Hispanic community, in three to four years. It will be things that are in place now that are taking a fixed journey to fruition, and so I’m very excited about that as I leave, because I know that there’s so much momentum still to go.

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