Tourism Walla Walla chief to step down

Michael Davidson is headed back to his native New York next month after six-plus years at the agency's helm.

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WALLA WALLA -- The first chief executive officer of Tourism Walla Walla is stepping down effective next month.

Michael Davidson, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization charged with leading promotions in the area since May 2005, announced his departure at the monthly board of directors meeting Thursday.

His resignation will be effective Dec. 16 to accommodate a smooth transition. The board will select his successor after a nationwide search.

Davidson, 56, said in an interview this morning he's enjoyed his job and the community, but he's been contemplating a change for quite a while and the time is right. A new marketing agency has been hired and, personally, he wants to move back to his native New York to be close to family and with the woman he loves.

Leading efforts to brand and grow Walla Walla as a wine and tourist destination "is probably one of the best experiences I've ever had," said Davidson, who has made a career out of marketing and promoting communities. "To build (Tourism Walla Walla) from the ground up was one of the experiences I've always wanted."

Although he has no new position to move to, he said it's time for him to take his skill and talents "to go and build another organization."

During his tenure, Davidson -- whose current salary is $74,500 -- helped oversee the branding of Walla Walla as a tourist destination, and developed wine and bicycle maps, according to a news release.

"He gave guidance and support to new events like Feast Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival and Shakespeare Walla Walla. His most notable recent efforts have been directed at the regional signage initiative and securing a new marketing agency to represent Tourism Walla Walla," the release says.

Elio Agostini, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, said he was "heartbroken" to hear Davidson is leaving.

"There will be a vacuum in Walla Walla when he leaves. He's made a huge difference to the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation," he said today.

"Michael's been an important dude to this community."

David Woolson, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce president, said, "I think Michael deserves a lot of credit for the growth of tourism in the Valley," as proven by visitor counts, overnight stays and other indicators.

"He has done very well for Walla Walla," Woolson said.

The current Tourism Walla Walla board chair, Michele Rennie, said Davidson's decision to leave "came as a surprise to us."

But she complimented his contributions. "He's left us in tremendous shape to move forward," she said. "We are in an enviable position in large part due to Michael Davidson."

The nationwide search for a successor will begin next year, according to Rennie.

"This is an important destination and whoever comes in next will be responsible to take it to the next level."

U-B reporter Andy Porter contributed to this report.

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