A California bank manager is coming back to his roots to help downtown Lawrence grow and thrive.
Jeremy Douglas, branch manager and assistant vice president of a Wells Fargo Bank in Santa Ana, Calif., starts Jan. 2 as executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.
"Nothing beats the midwestern, genuine touch of personalities and caring people," Douglas said Monday, from his office alongside California's largest mall. "I think that's what's lacking out here. People don't care, per se, about what's going on around them."
In Lawrence, Douglas will return to the central business district where he worked while living in town and attending classes at Kansas University.
Douglas was assistant branch manager for The Buckle, 805 Mass., from 1996 to 1998. During that time, he said, the store went from being ranked among the top 54 percent of Buckle stores to among the top 14 percent.
He hopes to bring the same success to Downtown Lawrence Inc., whose more than 150 members work on behalf of more than 300 businesses and their 5,000 employees in a 16-block area long considered the city's cultural, government and historic center.
He plans to organize festivals of music and food, featuring downtown merchants and restaurants. He also wants to attract family businesses from surrounding communities to open up shops downtown.
Helping small, independent businesses find a home and assisting ones already downtown to grow also will be key, he said.
"I want to be able to bring the community closer," Douglas said.
DLI's board of directors interviewed four finalists for the job, vacant since Jerry Bottenfield resigned Oct. 31 after a year in charge. David Livingood, DLI president, is confident the organization found the right man.
"One of the challenges of this job is you have to wear a lot of different hats," said Livingood, a principal for GLPM Architects, 1001 N.H. "Of the four, Jeremy is probably the one who can best wear them all right now."
Douglas, 23, grew up in Baldwin and is a graduate of Baldwin High School. He lived in Lawrence for three years and attended classes at Johnson County Community College and KU before moving to California, where he went to work for Wells Fargo.
He'll leave behind a branch inside a Vons grocery store, with more than a dozen employees and an annual loan volume of more than $20 million. Its depositors include Target, Best Buy and other businesses in the area.
Douglas is ready to bring his personal approach to sales in Lawrence, just as he did in the fast-paced suburbs of Los Angeles.
"The sky's the limit," he said.=