As the region hopes to head into pandemic recovery, Shelonda Stokes has been tapped to lead the Downtown Partnership and the mayor’s COVID-19 Small Business Task Force. Here’s what the interim president at Downtown Partnership is saying about the city.
Q. You have two new roles in the most unusual of times. Tell us how you will lead Downtown Partnership.
A: This new role entails leading the organization through unchartered territory. It requires adjusting to the “new normal” to ensure that we are responsive to the needs of downtown Baltimore while at the same time, being protective of the health and safety of our team members.
It also means shifting to a more business-focused model to protect the fiscal stability of the organization and moving our business enhancement programs to a virtual platform.
I bring 20 years of business acumen in leading teams, media expertise to expand our outreach, a fresh and diverse perspective, and out-of-the-box thinking to help the organization adjust during this time of uncertainty.
Q. How has the Downtown Partnership responded to the temporary closure of dine-in restaurants and public events?
A: We co-produce Baltimore Restaurant Week, in partnership with Visit Baltimore, and we were an early adopter of the hashtag, #curbsidebaltimore that lets restaurants share their carryout or delivery options.
We launched a new promotion with the same name to drive exposure and revenue to restaurants and retailers in core downtown Baltimore neighborhoods by subsidizing gift card purchases at 25 downtown Baltimore businesses.
We’ve also launched a restaurant recovery task force with some of the city’s leading restaurant owners to design relief programs for the short-, mid-, and long-terms.
Additionally, our economic development team is conducting a business recovery survey that will help determine future initiatives. There is a list of assistance funds and a ton of coronavirus- related information at our website, GoDowntownBaltimore.com.
Q. How will Baltimore come out of this?
A: Baltimore is a resilient city. Economists are predicting that it will take approximately five years for the economy and fears of social distancing to rebound. But our craving for going to restaurants, public parks and seeing live performances will prevail, and we will adjust to experience our pleasures within “safe spaces.”
Maybe the tables at restaurants will be further apart, or events will be smaller and contain more customized experiences. We will have an increased appreciation for the little things and for that, we’ll be better.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about Baltimore?
A: As a native Baltimorean, it’s tough to have just one favorite thing. I love our people, places and food. But if I stick with the food category, I’d have to say, in a cliche yet honest way, crabs are my absolute favorite.