DDP’s Legacy of Leading Women

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Detroit is rich in its legacy of leaders, visionaries, and trailblazers. Henry Ford, Albert Kahn, and Coleman Young immediately come to mind. Like dozens of others, their names are as familiar to us as Woodward and Hudson. But what about Haviland, Richards, and Peck? Less familiar are the women who shaped our incredible history. Laura Smith Haviland created the first anti-slavery organization in Michigan. Fannie Richards was the first Black school teacher in Detroit, introduced kindergarten programs to Michigan, and opposed segregated public schools. In the ‘30s, Frannie Peck founded the Housewives League of Detroit, which supported Black merchants during the Depression.

The Downtown Detroit Partnership, founded in 1922, also has a legacy of strong women leaders that many Detroiters will know, such as Edgecomb, Bade, Beebe, Kai, and Pasky. They and others made their mark on Downtown Detroit and put our city on the map.

As organizations and businesses around the country celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s look at some of the women who, through their efforts, have helped shape Detroit and the DDP.

In 1980, Diane Edgecomb became the first woman to lead the organization (then the Central Business District Association), and she was one of the first women in the country to lead any economic development organization. Many readers will recall Edgecomb’s incredible vision and close friendship with Mayor Young. She understood the importance of public- and private-sector collaboration and she was a trailblazer, creating the first Ethnic Festival, championing lights for the Ambassador Bridge, and crossing international boundaries to develop sister-city relationships for Detroit. In 1954, started the Salute to Women Who Work, an annual event that brought hundreds of women Downtown to recognize their contributions.

In 1997, Linda Bade, an assessor for the City of Detroit, took the reins as president. Bade’s tenure was equally impactful. She changed the name from the Central Business District Association to Detroit Downtown, Inc., realizing the power and potential of a vibrant, thriving urban core and the need to create a clean, safe, beautiful, and inviting Downtown. Bade championed Public Act 260, which paved the way for creating what we know today as the Downtown Detroit Business Improvement Zone. The BIZ supports 591 businesses in the city by supplementing its infrastructure, maintenance, lighting, safety, and other programs that help create an inviting Downtown for businesses, residents, and visitors.

Kate Beebe led the Greater Downtown Partnership for five years. Beebe’s accomplishments include the Lower Woodward Agenda, a reinvestment strategy that brought more than $100 million in public and private investment to Downtown, the formation of the Eastern Market Corporation and then negotiating the Agreement with the City for the EMC to take on the management and improvements of the Market.

It should be noted that both Linda and Kate were instrumental in helping prepare the city for the Super Bowl XL, and that work continues today as we look to the upcoming NFL Draft.

Njia Kai has been a steady presence at the DDP as a masterful event planner and place maker. Through her company NKSK Events + Production, she has produced festivals around Detroit as well as hundreds of events for the DDP across our award-winning parks. As an early team member of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, she was part of a group of visionaries that created the city’s centerpiece: Campus Martius Park.

Cindy Pasky founded Strategic Staffing Solutions more than 30 years ago in Detroit. Today, her $350-million, full-service business and IT consulting firm has 3,600 direct consultants in 49 out of 50 states in the U.S. and in 27 countries across Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Pasky was named to the DDP board in 2005 and chair in 2010. She is one of the city’s and the DDP’s most emphatic boosters and has committed countless hours and resources in support of our mission (as well as that of many other organizations). Today, the DDP is stronger and more influential than ever before thanks to her leadership.

This is just a snapshot of the women who have supported and helped move the Downtown Detroit Partnership forward. Today, an impressive 77 percent of the DDP team are women, each serving our members and executing our programming with skill, passion, and unyielding commitment. I am proud to call them my friends and colleagues as we celebrate Women’s History Month together.

Lila Asante-Appiah

Chief Administrative Officer

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