Ferndale hires new DDA executive director

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published October 7, 2015

 Barry Hicks

Barry Hicks


FERNDALE — The Ferndale Downtown Development Authority board and the city have selected the next person to lead the downtown as the new DDA executive director.

Barry Hicks, who has a background in planning and economic development with Sterling Heights, Jackson and Albion, was selected from a pool of 40 applicants. Hicks comes in after former Executive Director Cristina Sheppard-Decius stepped down May 27.

A committee of DDA board members, business owners, residents and City Councilwoman Melanie Piana conducted the search for the new director. The Ferndale City Council confirmed Hicks’ contract during the council’s Sept. 28 meeting.

“We were looking for, as a search committee, somebody that would be most qualified to take Ferndale through its fork in the road right now,” DDA Board Chairperson Dean Bach said. “Ferndale has identified some issues, and we need to unite and track down what we need to get done. Parking is an issue, retail recruitment is something we have to focus on, and we need to decide whether we are a retail district or an entertainment district.”

Hicks said he started his career working for the state of Michigan before he realized he wanted to work at a more local level in communities to be more involved and make more of an impact.

Hicks said he was drawn to the downtown environment in cities like Jackson and Albion, and he found that in Ferndale.

“It was appealing to me to build our communities and facing the challenges that come up in a downtown,” he said. “I get the chance to work with a diverse group of people from a wide age range and from different backgrounds. Ferndale, like other communities I have worked in, already has things in the downtown, so when we put more things in, how do we blend them in, and how do we keep that feel you already have going in the downtown that you don’t want to destroy?”

Hicks said he feels like Ferndale is at a tipping point and ready to really boom after a big development phase over the past several years under Sheppard-Decius and current interim Executive Director Cindy Willcock.

When Hicks starts in the position Oct. 19, he said his first goals will be to meet everyone who has a hand in helping develop the district, including business owners and residents who have a vision for what the district can look like.

“Relationship-building is vital to be successful in this role, and I want to go through and see what people’s visions are,” he said. “I have glimpses from the DDA board, council and some business people, but I’d like to get a cohesive vision and get people on the same page and look at future development people want.

“Some people want multi-storied, mixed-use structures, and others say no, it will destroy what we have, so we need to find a common ground.”

For much of 2014, the city of Ferndale entertained plans for a mixed-use development on the Withington Street and Troy Street parking lots that would have incorporated residential units, office space and increased parking. While city officials ultimately rejected the plan, they are still interested in some kind of mixed-use development.

Bach, who owns Dino’s Lounge and M-Brew in Ferndale, said the DDA is a vital part of a business’ success, and he hopes that Hicks, the DDA staff and board can work to continue to grow the district.

“We look to the DDA for support and guidance in marketing downtown Ferndale,” he said. “I think that if we go on the right path and get the region to come to Ferndale for what it is, we will all thrive. One of the reasons I got on the board years ago was I want to help participate in the growth of Ferndale. I have seen it rise up, and now we have to manage, maintain and continue to grow.”

Much like Bach, Hicks said downtown Ferndale has to establish what type of district it wants to be.

“Ferndale is not alone when they face the struggle of balance when we talk about putting in more housing, the issue of parking and public transit, and talk about more retail,” he said. “To me, right now, Ferndale has turned itself into a nightlife entertainment district. Not that there aren’t great stores, because there are, and that is not necessarily a bad thing unless that is not what you want. If you have too much entertainment, no one will be here during the day.”