October 11, 2022

Executive Director Don Brown Retiring

Even as the opening of Hilton Columbus Downtown’s 402 tower ushered in a new era for the central Ohio convention business, CFA officials and employees learned that another era is coming to an end: Executive Director Don Brown, after leading the CFA through a period of unprecedented challenge and accomplishment, is retiring at the end of this year. He made the news public on the day after the new Hilton tower welcomed its first convention guests on Sept. 15.

Don has had a long and distinguished career making public institutions work better, both as a public employee and as a business consultant specializing in public finance and public services.

He joined the CFA in 2015 after nine years as Franklin County administrator, serving the Board of Commissioners. During that time, he oversaw building of Huntington Park — the Columbus Clippers’ home baseball park, regarded by aficionados as one of the nation’s best — as well as a new county courthouse and replacement animal shelter.

At the CFA, Don’s work building Columbus’ future continued, with a $140 million renovation of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, two additional parking garages, and the new Hilton tower.

The 28-story hotel addition, connected to the original 401 tower by a spectacular skybridge across N. High Street, is a fitting exclamation point to close out a career focused on growing a community’s capacity. With the new tower, the Hilton Columbus Downtown becomes  Ohio’s only 1,000-key hotel and positions Columbus as  a much stronger contender for world-class conventions and events.

That is borne out by one of the hotel’s first events in the expansion — the 4,200-member annual convention for the International City/County Managers Association  was co-hosted last month by the hotel. Another blockbuster — PCMA, the professional association for convention managers — is coming next January.

And the 402 isn’t just any hotel tower; built on a challengingly small footprint and directly connected to the Convention Center, it is a dramatic addition to the city skyline, with a spectacular rooftop restaurant and an environment-friendly, world-class design that is on track to earn Gold-level LEED certification. CFA Chairwoman Sally Bloomfield credits Don’s steady leadership with ensuring the Hilton was ready for its first guests despite last-minute glitches.

In an email to CFA employees, Bloomfield declared that Don “was perfect for what was needed during the seven years that he served,” citing a “sterling reputation” and communication skills that helped him secure the cooperation of government and business partners who were essential to the CFA’s mission.

Don has said central Ohio’s culture of collaboration made his work easier. “I’ve had the privilege and honor to work with outstanding public officials, business leaders and citizens throughout my career. I’m proud that we have built facilities that make this a great place to visit as well as a better place to live.”

He doesn’t intend to leave future-building behind completely; Don hopes to be part of the effort to bring a new Amtrak station to the Convention Center, returning passenger rail service to Columbus for the first time since 1979. When Amtrak included a Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati line in its priorities for $66 billion in federal support for passenger rail expansion , the CFA under Don’s leadership commissioned a feasibility study for a new station. It concluded that a $22 million, two-level station could be integrated seamlessly into the Convention Center campus with pedestrian access and visibility from N. High Street.

Don’s many fans have plenty of time to wish him well; he’ll remain on the job while the CFA board searches for a successor.

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