By Talia Heisey
FRAMINGHAM – Downtown Framingham was one full of joy, gratitude, and reflection as Courtney Thraen looked back on her time as Executive Director at Downtown Framingham Inc. at its annual meeting on Thursday, March 4.
In her introduction Thraen explained her decision to leave Downtown Framingham.
“COVID is taking a hit on a lot of us just our energy levels and how we work. And so I thought, you know, four years is a really good time to bring in a new person,” the Framingham resident said. “We kind of have this time right now, you know, the winter to work on grants and planning, and then really hit the ground running as we come out of COVID, hopefully, in a couple months.”
Later Thraen said “The thing that I love about nonprofits is that you have to earn your keep. And I know people are like, fundraising is so hard, you have to do your mission. But if you’re demonstrating what you’re doing, and people believe in it, and they can actually see tangible results it’s really fun.”
“I just want to thank the Board of Directors, the small businesses downtown. Anyone that has helped me out to invest in our community and get others to get on board with the incremental non flashy work that we do” she said.
Thraen went on to give a presentation, highlighting the highs and lows across her four years as director. She is the second director of Downtown Framingham Inc. The first director Holli Andrews stayed five years.
“Something I’m really proud of is just how our arts and entertainment really started to grow and flourish over the years. And that’s something you know, when those three people, those nasty comments I showed you like this is another testament of downtown and bringing people in and it’s a spread out, it’s from one side of 135 to the other side of 135,” Thraen said. “This is a project that we did I thought was neat, just because it was picked up by the Associated Press is spread across the whole country.”
These nasty comments explained by Thraen, were from “a Word document, and it’s saved as nasty comments. And when I see these things, I’m like, Oh, I have to defend downtown..But I have to remember too, that I have all these champions around you that are always working. They’re activating our spaces, they’re coming together, like in the bottom corner here you see people from these are Pennsylvania and Indiana residents, building friendships on a pub crawl. ,,, It’s great to have ambassadors that can help, you know, get others to understand the community and to push back against some of the urban stereotypes and urban stereotypes..we have a Latino business that’s going to have a Creamery. And so you have these immigrant businesses or minority businesses that are going to be having diversified types of fare that may have a universal appeal like a Creamery,” said Thraen.
“I love meeting with people one on one and just learning, you know, the intimate details of what’s going on with their business or their situation, and really building those personal connections with them. So that we can, you know, have that trust … when say COVID heads, they feel comfortable and they know they can reach out to me” Thraen said.
“We had very few businesses closed during COVID that stayed closed,” said Thraen.
Thraen also spoke about times initiatives had failed.
“I also looked back at some of the things that didn’t really, you know, come to fruition that I was working on,” she said. “But it is important to learn from things that don’t come to fruition.”
“We did a program called the college underground where the students could come and..you couldn’t advertise events that have alcohol involved. So we just did a non alcoholic event,” said Thraen. “”I did talk to the president of the university Framingham state after this means like, yeah, the kids went to a party.. We tried, but it’s all about, you know, trying new things and just building that momentum. You know, Mike Gatlin, you know, he was the first president that I had worked with, he’s like, people are gonna come just keep going and keep trying to do as much as you can, as many events as you can just to get people in the habit of coming downtown.”
Thraen was also thankful for the involvement of college students at Framingham State University, and local high schoolers in Downtown Framingham Programs.”I tasked [high schoolers] to go talk to the city about having a dispensary downtime, or having the Framingham sign, bylaw, whatever the task was with the canvassing. And so they had these opportunities to do this really valuable work and talk to government leaders about their findings. That’s all very, you know, research based, and I’m heavier on the data side, but really [a] great experience for them.”
In her speech, she gave reflections for the new director, “something for Anthony to think about, and I hear often too, is that, you know, downtown needs to be a little bit more engaging for the youth.”
She ended her speech by emphasizing “I just want to thank everyone for all of your engagement, for understanding dynamics, multi faceted, organization, you know, you really are doing that the high level attracts people to the area, but also the people that are here feel good about the work they’re doing to and making the businesses feel included.”
Throughout the presentation, Thraen mentioned she kept hearing knocking at her front door, which was later revealed to be Board member Anne O’Connell’s husband presenting her with gifts, including a Massachusetts Senate Citation for her work as director.
The more than 15 speeches thanking Thraen for all she’d done began at the start of the meeting with Mayor Yvonne Spicer.
“Thank you publically to Courney for all your great work, I know whatever you go and do in this next part of your life, in this next chapter of your life, so
thank you thank you thank you,” said the Mayor.
Board member O’Connell said of Thraen’s time as director, “Here’s to Courtney, when she joined us in 2016 we were not sure she couldn’t replace Holly, our first director. She soon showed us that with boundless enthusiasm, loads of fun, limitless ideas, determination, a bit of paranoia. Maybe too much paranoia. A bit of seasonal affect disorder in the summertime. … An uncanny knack of social media and her understanding of both the big picture and the small gesture, she became the perfect Executive Director for her time. And so, Courtney, a toast to you today. Best wishes as you go on your way. Our board says thanks a lot. For everything you have. Hip hip hooray.”
While Framingham Police Chief Lester Baker told Thraen, “I know I have bad days. and I often walk downtown and I’ve been walking downtown having a bad day, because I’m walking downtown because it’s a complaint and I want to go see it for myself. And then we’ll come along Courtney, skipping in front of me with that smile and just you know, put it all into perspective..and lets me realize you know, things are bigger.”
“Courtney your energy is infectious.” the police chief said.
Speaking to Thraen he said, “we’ve had those conversations where you’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this,” said Chief Baker. “I would say, absolutely no, I can’t be done. We can’t do that, and you did it, and it was amazing, and we were part of it..you’re going to be missed.”
Thraen, after every speech would state her own appreciations for the speaker, and the work they’d done together.
As the speeches wound to an end, the Board of Directors for Downtown Framingham Inc. voted in Anthony Lucivero as the new Executive Director.
O’Connell mentioning Thraen had jokingly said she would, “would shut off the zoom call if people voted against this motion.”
To welcome Lucivero and thank Thraen, participants virtually toasted the two with drinks they had on hand.
Lucivero took the opportunity to thank theBoard and introduce himself to those in attendance at the virtual annual meeting.
“It’s a tough act to follow for sure. There’s definitely big shoes to fill, but I look forward to stepping into them. So here’s to Courtney, thank you. And I wish you all the best going forward,” said Lucivero. “”What brought me to this role at DFI was as Courtney and some of you had mentioned, you
know, getting out there in a community and putting my boots on the ground and making a difference. So that’s what I’m most excited about coming into this role.”
As the executive director,” I’m going to be continuing to focus my efforts on the outstanding support Courtney has been giving to the businesses downtown, as well as community development, community building projects, and getting to know everybody in the area,” said uicivero.
O’Connell said the Zoom meeting was not the end of celebrating the end of Thraen’s directorship by any means, “we will have a party when everything opens up. I don’t know what it will be yet, but we will have a party so that we can all be together and send Courtney off appropriately though this has been a pretty good zoom party.”
At that point in the annual meeting, the Board of Directors went into an executive session, closed to the public and the media.
Talia Heisey is a 2021 spring intern for SOURCE. Heisey is a current sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English. They has been a contributor to the Amherst Wire’s campus news section since 2019, focused on covering the impact of COVID upon the UMass community. They has previously participated in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Journalism bootcamp program.