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Column: Leadership transition under way at Piedmont Park Conservancy

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 21, 2014

The Piedmont Park Conservancy is experiencing a transition in leadership with the departure of its CEO, Yvette Bowden, who left in mid-January to pursue other opportunities.

“We are fortunate in that Yvette’s departure came at a transition point for the Conservancy, with the completion of the capital improvement projects comprising Phase 1 of the North Woods Master Plan and finalization of the Conservancy’s five-year Strategic Plan (2014-2018),” Board Chairman John Johnson, an attorney with Troutman Sanders LLP, wrote in an email.

“The Conservancy is also very fortunate in that Debbie McCown agreed to step in as interim CEO contemporaneous with Yvette’s departure,” Johnson continued. “Having Debbie on board has enabled the Conservancy to maintain its high level of performance in preserving and enhancing the park while the board focuses on selecting a permanent CEO.”

McCown served as president and CEO of the Piedmont Park Conservancy for 10 years until she stepped down in 2008.

The Conservancy also lost its No. 2 executive in early January when Chris Nelson, described by Johnson as the organization’s “long-time and much-beloved COO,” left to become executive director of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

The role of chief operating officer has since been filled by Mark Banta, formerly the general manager of Centennial Olympic Park, where he worked for 16 years. Banta left Atlanta to become president of the Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas, but he resigned from that position in March 2013.

“Mark came highly recommended from Chris and others, and we are thrilled that he accepted our offer to take over for Chris,” Johnson said.

Going forward, Johnson said the Conservancy has formed a search committee which is meeting to consider its options for the CEO search.

“We will be looking to bring in the most qualified candidate, whether that individual is in-house or external,” Johnson said. “With Debbie, Mark, and the other outstanding members of the Conservancy staff in place, we know the Conservancy is in good hands while we proceed with the search.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, and the Landmark Lunch will be held on May 8 with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as the keynote speaker.

Class A Festivals in Piedmont Park

The city of Atlanta also has announced its schedule of “Class A Festivals” that will be held in Piedmont Park in 2014. The park is home to five or six annual Class A festivals — meaning events that attract at least 50,000 people to the park.

The festival season will start with the 78th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival being held on April 11-13.

The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs will celebrate the 37th annual Atlanta Jazz Festival on Memorial Day weekend — May 23-25.

The AJC Peachtree Road Race, the world’s largest 10K race, is held annually on July 4.

Music Midtown, a gated and ticketed event with three stages, will occur Sept. 19-20.

And the 44th annual Atlanta Pride Festival will occur Oct. 11-12.

YWCA of Greater Atlanta — Salute

A new group of stellar women will be inducted to the YWCA of Greater Atlanta’s Women of Achievement. The annual Salute will take place during a luncheon at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis on May 8.

The theme of this year’s Salute is: “Keeping the Faith,” so it’s fitting that the 2014 Woman of Achievement is the Rev. Joanna Adams, who has been a longtime community leader.

The other women who will be inducted into the Academy of Women Achievers are: Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund; Beth Finnerty, president and CEO of Skyland Trail; Dana Halberg, chairman of BNY Mellon Georgia; Danita Knight, fundraising and public relations consultant; Paulette Norvel Lewis, regional administrator, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor; Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Foundation and a candidate for the U.S. Senate; Natosha Reid Rice, associate general counsel, Habitat for Humanity International; Valerie Montgomery Rice, dean and executive vice president of the Morehouse School of Medicine; Nita Sardana, vice president of community outreach and corporate giving for American Cybersystems; and Charmaine Ward, director of community affairs for Georgia-Pacific.

White Coats

The Grady Health Foundation held its fourth annual White Coat Grady Gala at the Georgia Aquarium on March 15 — raising more than $1.26 million for the Grady Health System, including a new neonatal crib for the Neonatal Unit and a new ultrasound machine for the Mother Baby Unit at the hospital.

The event also honored legacy medical leaders in Atlanta. Dr. Nanette Wenger received the “Senior Sage Award” for transforming the face of cardiology with her pioneering work spending more than 50 years serving Grady and publishing more than 1,300 works.

Dr. Roland Matthews, medical director for the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady, received the “Inspiring Mentor Award” for being a leading voice on the issues of health disparities in underserved communities.

The “Next Generation Healer Award” went to Dr. Aaron Anderson, who graduated from medical school only eight years ago but is already a leading force in his role as vascular neurologist at Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center.

The “Ada Lee and Pete Correll Healthcare Legacy Award” was given to Kaiser Permanente, which has contributed more than $20 million to Grady and become an essential partner in the evolution of the hospital.

The event was co-chaired by Tom Bell, chairman of Mesa Capital Partners, and his wife, Jennifer Bell, along with Roz Brewer, president and CEO of Sam’s Club, and her husband, John Brewer.

Heroes, Saints & Legends

It was the silver anniversary for the annual Heroes, Saints & Legends gala, which benefits the Foundation of Wesley Woods. The event was held on March 15 at The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead.

The funds raised at the gala go toward supporting the senior living communities of Wesley Woods as well as research for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Glenn Warren, chair of Wesley Woods Senior Living, announced the launch of the Community for Caring Campaign — a $9.8 million campaign to make sure Wesley Woods can refurbish its older properties and offer affordable housing to families who are in need.

“We have raised $6.6 million toward our $9.8 million goal,” Warren said.

The event honored Lonnie Ali, the wife of Muhammad Ali, for the role she has played as manager of her husband’s affairs and as his personal caregiver.

“I don’t usually accept awards on my behalf,” she said when thanking Wesley Woods for the award. “Usually I do it on my husband’s behalf.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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