Changes are afoot at the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, the City of Raleigh’s philanthropic, nonprofit partner that’s charged with engaging the community, and raising the money, to implement a collective vision of a beautiful, natural, transformative park for all.

Janet Cowell, a former state treasurer, former state senator, former two-term Raleigh city council member and Dix Park Conservancy board member who has served since the conservancy’s inception, will assume the role of president and CEO of the conservancy beginning January 18. Cowell replaces Sean Malone, who has served as the conservancy’s leader since 2017.

Conservancy board vice chair Orage Quarles led a 10-plus person committee that ultimately selected Cowell from a pool of more than 100 candidates in a search that began at the end of November and lasted through the beginning of this month. Quarles wasn’t immediately available to comment Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview with the INDY, Cowell said that the change in leadership comes as there is a transition from planning the park to the building phase, which is already underway. Raleigh’s city council unanimously approved the Dix Park  master plan from designer Michael Van Valkenburg in February of 2019.

Conservancy board chairman Jim Goodmon said in a press release that Cowell can hit the ground running. 

“As we enter a new phase in the creation of Dix Park, Janet is the perfect person to keep all the different parts moving,” Goodmon said.

Next month, renovations to the Gregory Poole All Faiths Chapel are expected to wrap up. Additionally, Cowell says, the conservancy will unveil plans for a larger community gathering space soon. The conservancy is still collecting community input for a destination play area along Lake Wheeler Road, which could open in three to four years. And design plans to restore the Rocky Branch Creek, billed as the city’s waterfront property, are in the early stages. 

“Clearly, there is a lot of progress already going on at the park,” Cowell says. “We have had a number of different grants supporting [work on Rocky Branch Creek restoration], so that is super exciting to think about sustainability and bringing that back to a more natural state.”

Cowell says she will, in her new role, advocate for a parks bond to appear on Raleigh voters’ ballots as soon as this fall. While Dix Park will be a major component of the bond, bond money would go to support parks projects all across the city.

“We want to make sure all the parks in the city are paid attention to and that everybody has access to them,” Cowell says. “As a former treasurer, I really believe in investment. People are talking about, with COVID, we need a recovery and we all want to come out of this with more energy in 2021. The way to do it, economically, is to invest and get money moving and get projects moving. Parks is one way to do that and Dix Park is one way to do that.”

Outgoing president and CEO Sean Malone has led the conservancy since 2017, when he relocated to Raleigh from Milwaukee to head the organization charged with supporting Dix Park’s planning, development, and operations.

“I’m so pleased that Janet will be taking on this role for the park and for Raleigh,” Malone said in an email to the INDY this afternoon. 

“Janet’s commitment to Raleigh, her leadership skills, her contacts and her character make her an excellent choice to lead the Dix Park Conservancy,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin in a press release. “I am thrilled to work with her again as we move Dix Park forward.”

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