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On solid ground: New Davis city manager takes practical approach to growth

Robby Short
robby.short@ardmoreite.com
Davis city manager Andy Holland discusses the city's growth potential.

Thirty years ago, Andy Holland left his hometown of Davis to pursue a career in the military. A structural engineer by trade, Holland spent most of his professional life in the public sector working on projects for the United State’s Navy Engineer Corps.  

After 20 years of service with the US Navy, Holland retired with the rank of commander, but continued his federal service as the Deputy Public Works Director, a civilian position for the Navy’s Norfolk, Va. naval station.

Holland said his position in Norfolk — the world's largest naval base housing 80,000 people — was responsible for infrastructure projects like transportation, utilities, roads and all the buildings, including the houses, similar to the one he now holds as Davis’ city manager.

“It’s the same kind of challenge, just a different scale,” Holland said.  

Four months ago, Holland returned to Davis and now hopes to use the skills he mastered and lessons he learned to help his hometown reach what he believes is its full potential.

Holland's first job was for the City of Davis doing landscaping at Turner Falls at the age of 15. He would go on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in architecture — he’s licensed to practice architecture in Florida — before landing in a leadership position in the military.

A reader submitted this image of a snow-covered Turner Falls on Wednesday.

“I started swinging a yo yo… That’s a predecessor to the weed eater,” Holland said. “That was my first job at Turner Falls, then I worked as a lifeguard for three years while in high school and college.”

Holland said the first order of business is changing the city’s approach to infrastructure.

“I am all about maintenance and upkeep. Preventive maintenance, which is sometimes hard to do,” Holland said. “We tend to be more reactive than proactive. Nobody complains about the underground waterline that is rusting until it breaks.”

While most new city managers come onto the scene with lofty, sometimes unrealistic goals, Holland's plan — at least for now — is to create an environment for organic growth.

“Davis hasn’t grown much since I first left,” Holland said. “The population is pretty much the same number right now.”

Turner Falls Park in Davis

While recent efforts in Davis were geared toward adding additional attractions to draw in more tourists, the city’s new game plan — while eyeing a similar end game — is taking a new approach.

Holland plans to implement at least one major road project a year, repairing roads that have otherwise only seen overlying patch jobs. The efforts kept them open but have ended up causing other issues with drainage and flooding.

Roads will be a major focus for Holland, including the creation of additional access points to Turner Falls to ease access to the city’s main attraction and to better utilize the entirety of the park.

Holland hopes the new entry way will make the park more accessible, open up new areas and help evolve the park into a year-round attraction.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced the daily capacity levels at the park — from around 5,000 to 2,000 — it’s actually helped boost profits from the park.

“Because of COVID, we had a late start and we limited attendees,” Holland said. “We were closed pretty much all of April. We opened up in mid-May and we still ended up with a record year for May. We hit a million dollars. People were so ready to get out that they rushed in and we made up for those lost weeks. We also set a record in June, and we were close to a record in July, so we had a record summer. We’re about a million above where we finished the year before.”

Holland said the area has had some interest in possibly adding a theme park to the mix, which may eventually come to fruition, but only when the town is ready.

“Where we go is the big question,” Holland said. “I’m not for doing major capital projects to build a waterslide. I have a waterpark. It’s a natural waterpark. So we want to enhance that. I don’t want to go into competition with area residents and businesses. This is an opportunity for them to make money.  As long as they are making money, paying sales taxes into the city and creating jobs, I’d rather have them managing it. The city needs to focus on providing good services."

Another improvement Holland would like to see at Turner Falls is the addition of hiking and mountain bike trails, possibly even mountain bike races.

“Right now, our hiking consists of a flat, two-mile trail but we want some primitive trails,” Holland said.” We want something that avid hikers can go out there and get lost in the woods and camp remotely. They don’t want to sit right next to another camp ten feet from them. We’ve got plenty of room to do that.”

In October, Cross Bar Ranch will host its first Ultra4 championship race on its 25-mile track, an event Holland believes will give the city a second big attraction for years to come.

“We’re expecting about 200 racers since so many other events have been closed down due to COVID,” Holland said. “So they’re chomping at the bit to come here. Each racer is bringing in about four to five people as their pit crew. And we aren’t talking about local race cars, something you souped up on the farm. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollar vehicles.”