EVART -- The Evart Downtown Development Authority has hired Eric Kehoe as its new director.

The DDA met to discuss contract negotiations on Aug. 25, and officially offered the position to Kehoe, who started his duties as director on Aug. 28.

"We are very excited to have Eric start working for us," DDA President Alan Bengry said. "He will be here two days next week and three days the following week to get things underway."

Kehoe is a resident of Detroit and will be working remotely, primarily, but will spend time in Evart every month. Because of that, the DDA had to get approval from the Michigan Mainstreet organization before hiring him, Bengry said.

"They gave us approval to try this for a six-month period and see how it works," he said. "He will be working on paperwork while remote and will be meeting with business owners and other stakeholders in the community while on site. Because a lot of people are working remotely right now, and because of his background and his skill, we thought there was no way we could lose on this proposition."

"I am honored to be leading the DDA in Evart," Kehoe said. "I give the board credit for thinking outside of the box and hiring me in a remote capacity, and I think my perspective as a newcomer will be beneficial for our long-term development."

Kehoe was chosen from around 14 applicants for the position, some as far away as Texas, California and Canada.

"What attracted us to him as a candidate was his work in historic preservation as well as successful grant writing, which will be important in funding some of the downtown projects that we are looking to do," Bengry said.

Kehoe previously served as President of Preservation Detroit, the city's oldest and largest historic preservation nonprofit, and has experience in economic development, grant writing, and real estate, earning a Master's in Urban Planning from Wayne State University in December.

As DDA director, will be working on the Mainstreet initiatives started under former director Bryan Tiedt, as well as additional duties with the larger DDA initiatives.

"We currently have three Mainstreet projects that are underway," Bengry said. "One of those is to get bicycle racks and benches downtown, another is to get our "way finding" signage throughout the city, and we are working on a "pop-up" location downtown for people that are looking to get a business started but haven't really taken the plunge yet."

The DDA purchased a former barber shop in the downtown area and are working to renovate the building for the "pop-up" shop, which will be available to local entrepreneurs wanting to try out a new business idea.

"There is a strong sense of community here and I am excited to build on that," Kehoe said. "We want to prioritize growing our local businesses, attracting new business and revitalizing buildings within the DDA."

Tiedt informed the board that he would be stepping down from the position of DDA director in June.

Tiedt returned home to Evart in 2016 after 35 years, with plans to retire on the family farm. He was selected as director of the DDA in 2018.

As director, he said, he wanted to bring life back to the downtown area. He worked to get the Michigan Mainstreet initiative completed and began a revitalization of downtown Evart.

"Bryan was already retired when we hired him and he was ready to just be retired," Bengry said. "He was a great transitional director to get us to this point and now he would like to just stay home.

"It was really beneficial to us because he was able to get a lot of the policies and procedures in place as we took on the Michigan Mainstreet designation, things that we did not have in place, and now we are ready to move on to the project phase," he continued. "A lot of these projects got shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are still doing what we can behind the scenes to make sure we are ready to put those projects into place when we are able."

"Our goal is to focus on building a resilient local economy that keeps money right here in Evart," Kehoe said.