When Dave Dabney steps down as executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership, it’s the long-time relationships he’ll miss the most.
First assuming the position in 1999, the 69-year-old BUP head will retire in November, leaving behind 35 full-time employees and beginning his retirement with his wife Janet in Bethany Beach, Del.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Dabney said. “I enjoy every single day going to work. I’m a people-pleaser at heart, and it’s just been a joy and an honor to have been given this opportunity that I grew up in.”
A Bethesda native, Dabney has spent the past 17 years managing the BUP, a nonprofit organization which helps manage and market downtown Bethesda.
He quickly noted two integral members of his staff, Jeff Burton and Stephanie Coppula, who currently serve as the organization’s deputy executive director and director of marketing and communications, respectively.
After 17 years, Dabney has seen downtown Bethesda change dramatically since he joined the unit.
Early in Dabney’s career, he said the area was a “pass-through” for those who worked in Washington D.C. But as time went on, Bethesda become more residential and commercial. Dabney saw downtown Bethesda transform into a place where people wanted to live and work.
“That was one of the bigger changes that’s happened over the last 15 to 20 years,” Dabney said. “We didn’t see the growth of the commercial buildings as much as we saw the growth, the population growing.”
Dabney also took over an operation to help residents navigate the area without having to worry about finding parking spots or paying Metro fares.
The County wasn’t sure if it wanted to continue funding the Bethesda Trolley bus system, so Dabney insisted the BUP take it over in 2006. 11 years later, the Bethesda Circulator takes residents around the area six days per week.
“’We’ll take it over. We’ll do it,’” Coppula recalls Dabney saying. “’Whatever funding you’re putting into it, you give that to us. We will make it work. We will increase ridership. We will have better looking vehicles.’”
Coppula gave high praise for the executive director, noting his dedication and open-minded approach. If a board member had an idea for bringing people to Bethesda, Dabney didn’t interfere, Coppula said. He’d let those people pursue those initiatives with the hopes of bettering the community.
While Rick Ammirato will begin taking over as executive director starting in early September — he previously served as the assistant city manager in Homestead, Fla. — Coppula believes Ammirato’s energy and enthusiasm about working in the D.C. area will make the transition a smooth one.
Dabney agrees, adding Ammirato won’t have to worry much about the “day-to-day operations” because of the staff that’s already in place.
Still, Ammirato won’t be able to replace the relationships Dabney has built with his employees since his arrival.
“He’s also one of the highest-energy people I know, and I think that in combination with the dedication to his job and what he wants to see Bethesda become is just really infectious,” Coppula said. “It gets all of us really excited to come to work every day.”