Carrie Kelly, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara.
Carrie Kelly recently moved to Santa Barbara from Arizona after being hired as the Downtown Santa Barbara Organization’s new executive director.  (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Carrie Kelly is new to Santa Barbara, and joins the Downtown Santa Barbara Organization as its executive director after the position was vacant for nearly a year following the resignation of Maggie Campbell. 

Kelly comes to the Central Coast from Kingman, Arizona, where she headed the nonprofit Mohave Community College Foundation, and previously worked at a small law firm in her hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana, in local government relations. 

Though Kelly, who is quick to smile and describes herself as a “relentless optimist,” is leading a downtown organization for the first time, she sees her relative outsider status as a strength that will allow her to imagine fresh possibilities.

“I come in with a positive attitude,” she says. “I don’t know what can’t happen.” 

She hopes to ramp up marketing and fundraising efforts, launch more public events in the downtown corridor, and make sure the farmers’ market has a permanent home. The current Saturday market site is being considered for a new police station 

“I got pretty lucky,” she says of having found her way to Santa Barbara along with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. “I see myself and my family being here for a long time.”

Kelly’s inexperience leading a downtown organization is a sharp contrast to Campbell, who had 15 years of experience heading similar groups in four cities, including Pasadena and St. Louis, before being hired here.

Local business owner and Downtown Santa Barbara board member Dave Lombardi has been serving as interim director for the past year, mostly dealing with administrative tasks and “just keeping the organization running,” he said. 

About Kelly taking the helm, he says, “the organization is lucky to have her.”

Downtown Santa Barbara represents more than 1,000 business owners and its events include the monthly First Thursdays and annual holiday parade.

The city contracts with the group for some State Street-area maintenance and landscaping services. 

Garrett Hazelwood is a local freelance writer.