Cherry Blossom Festival looks for new leader

The Cherry Blossom Festival is looking for a new boss.

Festival board members met recently and decided to begin the search for a leader with a background in event planning and fundraising.

Jim Davis, who had been interim president and CEO since December, was praised for filling in and, as one festival official put it, helping save Macon’s springtime rite.

“I think Jim could capably do anything he set his mind to,” Cherry Blossom chairman Steve Jukes said Tuesday. “But after long and hard thought and discussion with other festival professionals and with professional recruiters and, frankly, just among ourselves, we concluded that someone who has been doing this for a living would be the best thing for the festival.”

Jukes added that the Cherry Blossom board’s decision not to keep Davis on permanently “was not a rejection of Mr. Davis. He’s a class act. ... He was a great leader to come in and take control of an event that was struggling.”

The search for a new CEO will primarily focus on prospects from the Southeast.

“Our hope and intent is to take our festival to the next level,” Jukes said. “The closer to Macon and the more Macon-friendly our candidate is, the better we’ll all like it.”

Davis replaced CEO Wright Tilley, who, after the weather-hampered 2008 festival lost about $140,000, resigned eight months later to take a tourism job in North Carolina.

“Jim was hired on as an interim, and he did a stellar job as an interim, and now we’re looking for some permanency,” Jukes said.

Davis said he had expressed interest in staying on as festival CEO but said he understands the board’s reasons for looking elsewhere.

“Seeing it from the inside and actually operating it ... I have a different appreciation for the mechanics and the amount of work that it takes to put it on,” said Davis, a former chief appraiser at the Macon-Bibb County Tax Assessors Office.

“I was pleased that we were able to put on the festival (this year) to the extent we did.”

Lee Robinson, chairman of the festival board, said Davis “stepped right into a void and rolled up his sleeves and got the job done.”

Festival officials have announced a news conference for later this month to discuss, among other things, the search for a new leader. The position also oversees the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission.

“Hopefully, we’ll have some excellent candidates to look at,” Robinson said. “We kind of want to step away from the maintenance phase and survival phase ... to make (the festival) even bigger and better.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.