The abrupt dismissal of a longtime urban development director at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce has dismayed some downtown business leaders.
Chris McGowan, who has overseen the chamber’s downtown initiatives since April 2007, said he was informed Friday morning that his job was eliminated because of a “change in direction” at the chamber.
Chamber President Matt Meadors declined to discuss McGowan’s departure, saying it was a personnel matter. Meadors said the chamber has not decided whether the urban development position will continue, but the priority of downtown development will.
“Our commitment to downtown remains unchanged,” he said. “The redevelopment of downtown remains one of our top strategic priorities.”
Some in the downtown area were perplexed by the chamber’s decision to let McGowan go, saying he had been a big part of downtown’s success in the last eight years.
“He was a key part of it,” said Brett Jameson, co-owner of Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits at 508 Austin Ave.
Jameson canceled his chamber membership Friday after hearing the news of McGowan’s departure.
“The benefit of our being a chamber member was the relationship with Chris,” Jameson said. “He was always coming and going and had his finger on the pulse of downtown.”
Jameson said McGowan was always willing to discuss issues important to him as a small-business owner, such as property taxes and broadband Internet access.
Tom Chase, chairman of Insurors of Texas and former head of the downtown Public Improvement District, said McGowan was a “huge part” of downtown revitalization.
“He kept everybody thinking about downtown,” Chase said.
“I talked to Chris on Friday, and he told me the chamber said they were going in a different direction,” he said. “If going a different direction means taking the emphasis off downtown, that’s terrible. If going in a different direction means someone besides Chris, I guess that’s (Meadors’) call.”
McGowan said he hopes to stay in Waco with his family and become a consultant on business and planning, while remaining active in the cause of urban development.
“I’m really proud of the work I’ve done in the last 81/2 years for downtown Waco, and I hope to find a way to continue doing that,” he said.
McGowan said he will continue to be involved in volunteer groups such as the farmers market and Creative Waco, and he hopes to continue to be involved in downtown development.
Hired in 2007
Former chamber President Jim Vaughan hired McGowan in April 2007 as the chamber was ramping up its emphasis on reviving “Greater Downtown,” the area between Baylor and Cameron Park, including East Waco.
McGowan filled a void left in 2006 when Downtown Waco Inc. imploded with the revelation that Executive Director Margaret Mills had been stealing money from the organization. He has continued with downtown issues even after the city of Waco organized a new independent downtown development corporation, headed by Executive Director Megan Henderson.
McGowan was a leader in the discussions that led to the city’s Imagine Waco Plan for Greater Downtown. He hosted a monthly round table for downtown called 1000 Friends of Waco, where he often shared research on urban planning and development. McGowan also convened meetings that led to the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and was in charge of the ThincSpace incubator for startup businesses.
Meadors said the chamber will continue 1000 Friends of Waco and ThincSpace.