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More than five years ago, Brent Flowers helped put Wilson on the map through HGTV’s “House Hunters” show. His family’s move to a historical home here prompted him to get involved in Preservation of Wilson, and at the start of 2020, he’ll lead the organization in an interim capacity.
“I appreciate the confidence in me to serve as interim executive director. I believe that Preservation of Wilson has played a real role in Wilson’s progress, and we are a willing and able partner that wishes to continue down this positive path,” Flowers said. “I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and taking a seat at the table where impact and progress are conceived, designed and implemented.”
Flowers will take the reins from Kathy Bethune, who is retiring after nearly 12 years. Bethune’s career has been varied, including working for a federal judge in Florida, leading economic development efforts in Tennessee and contributing to downtown revitalization in Wilson when her husband got a job at Barton College.
“I would say that I have been a cheerleader for preservation, and I’ve worked fearlessly, relentlessly to seek solutions to our vacant property issues,” Bethune said. “And, hopefully, I have established Preservation of Wilson to be a resource to property owners in the community’s historic districts. With that, my job is not done.
“I am a strong believer in there being a beginning and an end to everything, and I’ve done my work to the best of my ability, but now is the time for another director to take the organization to the next level.”
Flowers has spent 20 years in corporate accounting but recently decided to take some time off to return to school. As the group’s treasurer and finance chairman, he was happy to step up to help while a search committee finds the next full-time administrative leader. As a transplant who was drawn to Wilson because of the city’s historical homes, Flowers wants to attract others, especially from the Triangle.
“I think the best way to stabilize and preserve the historic districts is to increase the awareness and develop a market of potential owners,” he said. “There are people who really like the idea of owning a vintage home, and if they understood Wilson better, realized the ease to commuting from here, I think there would be more investing in the city’s historic properties.”
Preservation of Wilson also recently sold the Nadal House on Nash Street that was purchased in 2017 with a revolving fund. Flowers said he is optimistic the group will find another gem of a property that could use some TLC.
“There are properties that might have a buyer out there, but they need a leg up,” he said. “There is a balancing act to stabilize a property to effectively save it but also be in a position to sell it to the right buyer. There is an art to that, and we’re a bit wiser now than when we got into this, but with some more marketing in areas like Raleigh, we can attract investment.”
Flowers said he hopes to work closer with the city to determine which historical homes are at risk of being lost and develop resources to save Wilson’s heritage. He added he wants to work with similar groups in other cities to find innovative solutions.
“As preservationists, some of the work we do in the historic districts could solve similar problems elsewhere,” he said. “I think Preservation of Wilson could do something broader about improving all of Wilson.”
Preservation of Wilson’s membership has increased five-fold in the last decade.
“We are so very grateful to Kathy. There are not enough positive words to describe what I have witnessed during my tenure and service. Her passionate, energetic and completely serious approach to managing the strategic and tactical matters of Preservation’s mission have been amazing,” said Preservation of Wilson’s president, Stephanie Batten. “She should be very pleased with the outcomes she dispatched, brokered and ushered over the years.”