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With sleeves rolled up, Tim Walsworth prepares for next task

Tim Walsworth is animated, energetic and connected to the Durango community. Those qualities landed the United Way of Southwest Colorado’s chief a new position with the Durango Business Improvement District. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Tim Walsworth is animated, energetic and connected to the Durango community. Those qualities landed the United Way of Southwest Colorado’s chief a new position with the Durango Business Improvement District.

When Tim Walsworth graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in journalism, he needed work. That’s when he stumbled onto a job with the United Way.

“I didn’t know what they did,” Walsworth said in his Durango office. Yeah, he’d watched the ads during NFL games on Sunday, remembers seeing the giving hand logo and people doing good things.

“I really didn’t have a clue. But, long story short, I found my passion and my calling.”

A chance to direct an office brought him to Durango. And after a decade of overseeing a nonprofit that’s often in the public’s eye, Walsworth’s name has become synonymous locally with United Way. So when you hear he’s leaving, the news is a jolt. Perhaps you’re even angry – c’mon Tim, how can you do this? Then you learn he’s staying in Southwest Colorado because he loves it so much, and you forgive him.

Walsworth officially was appointed the new executive director of Durango’s Business Improvement District on Tuesday, when the city of Durango approved its 2013 budget.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for me because I absolutely love the United Way,” the animated Walsworth said during an interview in the United Way conference room.

But after all the blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul he poured into the local organization, “I’m just ready for something new.”

Yes, there will be a slight bump in pay, and as the father of an 8-month-old boy, that’s important. But he’s also excited to use his skills in a new, challenging way.

What exactly, you may be asking, is the Business Improvement District?

Known as BID, it is a quasi-governmental organization that is financed by a tax on property owners in the district, which includes the downtown area and property up Main Avenue all the way past the Hampton Inn at 3777 Main Ave. The city approves BID’s budget and appoints its directors.

BID’s mission has changed since it was created in 1997 to study the feasibility of a downtown conference center. That center was deemed infeasible, so the district now works to attract and retain businesses, and to market special events. “Branding” the Historic Downtown has become a central focus of the BID, according to its website.

Walsworth’s succession to BID’s top job heralds a change. The prior director, Bob Kunkel, concurrently served as the city of Durango’s manager of downtown business development. Kunkel remains in that job, and BID now has its very own executive director.

For BID, breaking that connection with the city is kind of like a kid leaving home for the first time, said Karen Barger, BID board member and owner of Seasons Rotisserie & Grill.

She describes Walsworth as inspiring, enthusiastic and a great communicator – traits that made Walsworth stick out among nearly 40 “very qualified candidates.”

Tim Wheeler, owner of Durango Coffee Co. and also a BID board member, said Walsworth is well-connected to many aspects of the community, from government officials to business owners. And his track record at United Way has been stellar.

“He’s willing to roll up his sleeves and get things done,” Wheeler said.

When Walsworth started, the United Way occupied a tiny, shared office at East Eighth Avenue and College Drive – the master bedroom of a former three-bedroom apartment.

“Inaccessible. People couldn’t find us,” Walsworth said. It wasn’t an optimal situation, but, he chuckles, “It was great ’cause the rent was really cheap.”

Ten years later, United Way of Southwest Colorado is on the ground floor of a much more spacious office in Bodo Industrial Park. The nonprofit has grown its fundraising from $500,000 in Walsworth’s first year as executive director in 2003 to more than $700,000 in 2011.

He’s proud of the $6.15 million raised during his tenure in the five-county area. They’re in the ballpark of raising this year’s goal of $764,000.

He hit the streets hard when he joined Southwest Colorado’s United Way in 2003, and plans to do it again when he starts with BID on Jan. 2.

“In my first 90 to 120 days I’m going to literally try to meet with every business and property owner in the district,” he said. “It might be impossible, but I’ll try.”

District voters in 2010 chose to continue BID for the next 15 years. Good news for most of the 800 property owners, unwelcome news for the 31 percent who voted against it and don’t think their taxes are being put to good use.

Walsworth is ready to tackle the challenge of chatting to those in favor as well as the reluctant BID members.

“I want to work for you whether you like us or you don’t like us,” Walsworth said. “And if you don’t like us, let’s try to start fresh and give me a chance to show that I’m for you.

“I need to know what you think. Honestly tell me. It’s not going to hurt my feelings.”

It’s an opportunity to make some positive changes, and that’s what he’s all about. He even stops halfway through making a point to say it himself:

“I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy – can you tell?” John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

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