Dave Robison, the executive director of the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, will retire in November after serving as the director for the past nine years. He stands Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in front of Building 305, which is in the final stages of its renovation for the Makers Square project. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Dave Robison, the executive director of the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, will retire in November after serving as the director for the past nine years. He stands Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in front of Building 305, which is in the final stages of its renovation for the Makers Square project. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Fort Worden PDA director to retire

After 9 years, Dave Robison feels it’s time for transition

PORT TOWNSEND — Nine years after he led the process to form the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, Dave Robison is retiring as the agency’s first executive director.

He announced his last day will be Nov. 15. Although he won’t be leading the Public Development Authority (PDA), he still will be involved with the park through the Fort Worden Foundation.

Conversations about Robison’s retirement began last fall. The goal was to have the new executive director search and transition plan under way earlier this spring. But the COVID-19 pandemic put that plan on hold, Robison said.

Before the pandemic, the PDA was planning on 2020 being a banner year, with Glamping and Makers Square opening and the return of THING music festival. Now, construction for both Glamping and Makers Square are nearing completion, but neither will be opening soon, Robison said.

“I thought it was a good time for a transition and to bring somebody else in to lead the organization into the next 10 years of its life with a good foundation to build from,” Robison said. “So we were planning to go out to start seeking my successor in March … and then COVID-19 hit.

“Those plans went awry. As we begin to look at the new normal and what it looks like for the Fort, this also still seems like a good time to kind of make a transition and bring in a new leader, because the new leader for the Fort going forward needs to have some say in the direction of how the Fort can respond to COVID-19 and how it can better serve the community, region and the state,” he added.

The PDA lost an estimated $4 million in expected revenue this summer season because of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robison said.

“In some ways, it’s kind of ironic, because the PDA was established in 2011 during another crisis, that being the Great Recession, and Fort Worden was in peril back then,” Robison said. “In many ways, the PDA came to the rescue in 2011.

“This crisis is a little different,” he continued. “It’s more of an existential threat, but the foundation for the PDA and for local control is there, so I think there is the opportunity to rethink how the Fort should operate in the new normal.”

Robison and the PDA board have been working with the Fort Worden partners on what COVID-19 means for the future of the Fort, and the planning process has started.

It will be very “intensive and immersive over the next six months,” he said.

Robison will continue to serve as the acting executive director of the Fort Worden Foundation for the time being.

“I’m not going away. I’m just not going to be working as intensively as I have been,” he said.

Robison led the movement beginning in 2010 to form the PDA to co-manage Fort Worden State Park’s 90-acre campus.

Starting on May 1, 2014, when the PDA officially began operating and managing the campus with Robison as executive director, the organization grew from 14 employees with an operating budget of a little over $1 million to a 2019 operating budget of over $7 million and 170 employees during the peak season, said Joan Rutkowski, executive communications manager, in a press release.

Board co-chair Norm Tonina said in a press release that Robison’s leadership has been key to the PDA’s growth and vitality.

“Dave’s vision, passion and ability to build and leverage a broad network of stakeholder relationships are what propelled the Fort Worden PDA’s progress all the way back to 2011, when the PDA was first chartered by the City of Port Townsend,” Tonina said.

“As a result of Dave’s leadership, we have watched revenues and capital investment accelerate and the attraction of new and exciting lifelong learning opportunities from organizations such as the Port Townsend School of the Arts and Seattle Theater Group’s THING festival.”

Robison’s Nov. 15 retirement date will coincide with the expected day of completion of Makers Square, a $12 million project to rehabilitate three historic buildings for a year-round community of makers, artists and educators.

Co-board chairs Tonina and Todd Hutton plan to recommend to the board members that they offer an employment contract to former Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons to serve as the interim executive director, according to the press release.

“David Timmons is a proven leader who has the ability to guide a complex organization, build teams and relate to a diversity of stakeholders,” Hutton said. “Since he began working for us, David has developed an even deeper understanding of the organization and is well-positioned to serve in an interim role.”

The PDA hired Timmons in March to assist with emergency response efforts while Robison focused on addressing financial challenges related to the closure. Timmons began serving as the acting associate executive director in August, the press release stated.

Hutton noted that Timmons was instrumental in the creation of the PDA, hiring Robison to lead the effort while Timmons was city manager, and he’s familiar with its history, its challenges and its opportunities, according to the press release.

Robison said his retirement is bittersweet.

“Fort Worden is such a tremendous asset and resource for our community and for people who want to get out and get into nature and social distance and take a walk and enjoy the open spaces and the views and fresh air,” he said.

“To end one’s career during COVID-19 is a sad day, but it’s kind of bittersweet because we have accomplished so much, and I do look forward to seeing how the Fort will evolve going forward, and I do look forward to having more personal time to pursue other opportunities, life goals and adventures,” he continued.

“It seems like it’s a good time for me to make that transition.”

__________

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.

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