‘Fabulous’ Galbraith ready for job

July 31st, 2016

To head Road to One Million

By SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Northeast Indiana’s leaders embraced a bold vision with the Road to One Million.

They were equally ambitious when searching for someone to oversee the region’s transformation designed to persuade more people to move here and stay here.

The ideal candidate would be a proven multitasker, team player and manager with “strong skills in planning, organizing, executing and evaluating” projects, according to the job posting.

The person would be capable of making independent decisions and taking responsibility for them – yet also willing to follow directions given by the volunteer board of directors that is ultimately in charge. And he – or she – must have experience in navigating the intricate requirements that come with government tax credits, nonprofit grants and other, less traditional funding sources. 

Michael Galbraith, ARCH’s former executive director, rose above the rest. The 51-year-old Michigan native was hired last month.

“I realize in this job I’m going to be the most popular guy until I’m not,” he said while sitting in his Spartan ninth-floor office in the downtown Fort Wayne 1st Source building. “At some point, I’ll probably have people who want to tar and feather me.”

It was the same way at ARCH, where some people blamed him for decisions the board made, Galbraith said.

“This is a brand new concept. This is a brand new project. This is a brand new experiment,” he said. “And, hopefully, as we go along, we’ll get better.”

Christopher Guerin, Sweetwater Sound’s vice president of corporate communications, finds it hard to imagine anyone more qualified for the job. A little more than a decade ago, the men worked together at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, where Galbraith continues to play the French horn.

Guerin, who was the Philharmonic’s general manager for 20 years, remembers Galbraith requesting minor schedule changes so he could pursue his dream of studying historical preservation. Not long after earning that master’s degree, Galbraith was hired by ARCH, the local group that works to preserve historic buildings.

Karen Richards, Allen County prosecutor, is ARCH’s board president. In that capacity, she talked to Galbraith almost daily.

Richards described him as “fabulous” and a great problem-solver who works well with others and is well-acquainted with historic structures in surrounding counties.

The nonprofit experience, Guerin said, was a kind of leadership boot camp for Galbraith.

“He’s very steady. He’s very, very smart,” Guerin said. “He has a clear vision of what he wants to do. He doesn’t do anything he isn’t passionate about.”

That passion connects with so many of the 70 projects in the Road to One Million portfolio, Galbraith said, citing his deep connections with the local arts community and love of water sports developed during his childhood.

And, of course, there’s his admiration for architecture.

“I have an affinity for adaptive reuse,” Galbraith said, referring to the practice of updating existing buildings. “That continues to add another 100 years of life” to a building.

Several projects involve transforming vacant or dilapidated buildings into vital community contributors. They include The Landing, a $20 million mixed-use entertainment draw in downtown Fort Wayne; Huntington University’s $1 million plan to renovate the former Public Service Indiana building to house a digital media arts program; Decatur’s $7.3 million street lofts and co-working space project; Warsaw’s $1 million retrofit of the Little Crow Foods building to be occupied by a new orthopedics company and other tenants; and Wabash’s $5.3 million Eagles Theatre project, which would remodel the building’s upper floors so they could be used by nonprofit arts groups. 

Then there’s the General Electric buildings. Company officials are reviewing proposals for redeveloping the 32-acre campus.  

Galbraith will guide those developers in working with the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority and numerous requirements of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

But it’s not his job to advocate for some projects and not for others.

He was hired by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which provides staff support to the Regional Development Authority on a contract basis. Previously, existing staff has juggled those demands with their normal duties. John Stafford and Pat Roller have also served as consultants.

“They said we need somebody to (head the project) because it’s big and getting bigger,” Galbraith said.

He hopes northeast Indiana will have such great success using the grant that state legislators decide to devote more money to the Regional Cities program. And he hopes the first wave of projects generates enough excitement that developers and lenders line up to participate in future waves.  

Improving quality of place is a crucial part of improving life in northeast Indiana, Galbraith said.

“This is a great first chapter of the book,” he said of the projects the $42 million grant will fund. “And my job is to write it so that people want to read chapters two, three and four.”