Can she work Salem magic on city?
Posted: November 20, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — In a bit more than five years, Jennifer Bell revived the dormant Main Streets program in Salem, Mass., helped lure more than 80 businesses to its downtown area and launched a highly successful farmers market.
And that was in a down economy.
So it’s no wonder that the Lancaster, Pa., native was selected as Winchester’s new downtown manager.
Bell’s hiring was announced by the city Monday. She was selected from a pool of more than 100 candidates following a nationwide search and will start in the position on Jan. 3.
“I really think Winchester is a gem that just needs some polishing,” Bell said in a phone interview Monday night. “I’m a history major, and I just love the city’s charm.
“... So many people have visions about Winchester, and I’d like to help them move toward it. I think it will be a wonderful job to help bring some things together and make a transition when the [Loudoun Street Mall] work is done.”
“Downtown manager” is a new position for the city. The post formerly was known as the executive director of the Old Town Development Board; Karen Helm resigned from that position in August.
City Manager Dale Iman said he and two panels — one comprised of staff members who often work on downtown issues and the other comprised of downtown stakeholders — interviewed three good candidates for the position. Bell was one of two who rose to the top.
In the end, he said her personality and accomplishments convinced him that Bell was the best person for the job.
“I think she’s driven, I think she’s really enthusiastic, and she has a passion for the job,” Iman said. “We’re interested in getting a vibrant farmers market, and she has good experience [in Salem]. They have over 30 vendors coming in and several thousand visitors.
“She also had a lot of success in attracting businesses to their downtown...”
Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll called Bell “a tireless advocate for our downtown retail, restaurant and residential community. Her talent and time helped organize many downtown events, from the very popular Salem Farmers Market to an ambassadors program that staffed our downtown visitor booth with Salem residents serving as volunteers.”
Bell, who said she’s “in my 40s,” said she and her husband, Daryl, wanted to be closer to their parents as they aged. Winchester provided that as well as a professional opportunity similar to the one she faced in Salem, which also has a pedestrian mall.
When she became the director of Salem Main Streets, Bell said the city’s pedestrian mall had a lot of vacancies and “needed some TLC.” A number of vacant buildings were converted to mixed use, with upstairs apartments over commercial space, and the creation of a number of festivals and the farmers market bring thousands of people downtown regularly.
In Winchester, she said she wants to launch a social media campaign that becomes the primary resource for people seeking information about downtown businesses and activities.
Lauri Bridgeforth, chairman of the Old Town Development Board and a member of the stakeholders interview panel, endorsed Bell’s hiring, saying she should “be a good fit” for Winchester.
“I think she’ll bring a whole fresh view to events and activities in Old Town,” Bridgeforth said.
Bell places a high priority on meeting with and talking to merchants, Iman said, including sometimes providing insight on how to improve their profit margins. She also was successful while working with very little staff and an annual budget of $100,000.
“She’s accustomed to doing a whole lot,” he said, “with a little.”
Iman had said he hoped to have the new manager at work before the Loudoun Street Mall utility project begins on Jan. 2. But he expressed confidence that Will Moore, the interim manager, will have everything in order for Bell to pick up when she arrives.
Bell would not disclose her salary, which was advertised to be $55,287 to $88,462. Joel Davis, Winchester’s human resources director, could not be reached for comment.
She earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in history from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw at email@example.com