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What's Up Magazine

Kathleen Koch

Mar 22, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous
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Stated Darden in her letter, “This effort took tremendous coordination among all levels of government and included 13 sources of financing. Restoring this abandoned building had its challenges, including removing all of the environmental hazards, securing over $26 million in financing, figuring out the complex ownership structure, and restoring the building to national historic preservation standards.“It was a pleasure to work with someone who was so dedicated to the project,” Darden said. “She left no stone unturned with regard to the details and procedures for the grand opening. She orchestrated a most memorable event for all who attended. She is definitely a woman who has made a difference in our community.”

Several projects over the past 14 years would not have succeeded at all or as well without the energy and vision of Kathleen M. Koch, the executive director since its inception in 1993 of the nonprofit organization Arundel Community Development Services, Inc., known as ACDS.

The 30 full-time employees and 15 consulting or construction firms that work with the organization have tackled projects over the years that include Wiley H. Bates Heritage Park, the Tenthouse Creek Village for former oyster shuckers in Galesville, the Bacontown hamlet near Laurel Racetrack, Langton Green in Annapolis, Sarah’s House for abused women near Fort Meade, the senior center in Arnold, and community centers in Shady Side and Pumphrey.

ACDS’s mission is to revitalize the county’s declining neighborhoods through the targeting of joint public and private investment; preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing for both tenants and owners through comprehensive property rehabilitation programs; promote homeownership; ensure housing for those with special needs; and enhance the quality of life in low-income communities by providing community facilities and services to children, youth, and families as well as supporting job training and placement. Finally, its mandate includes the preservation of the county’s rich cultural history through wide-ranging restoration efforts. “Back in 1993 (Robert R.) Bobby Neal, then the county executive, was interested in privatizing several county departments,” recalls Koch. “ACDS was the county’s department of Housing & Community Development. He wanted it to be more efficient. The result is the only one of its kind in the country. There are no other organizations like this in its management and implementation. We do what a department of Housing & Community Development would do, but we’re a nonprofit. In other jurisdictions, a lot of nonprofits serve low- to moderate-income people. We implement those programs and administer the funding on behalf of the county and Federal government.

“We can do things a lot of county organizations can’t do.” Thomas Lee Osbourne, president of the ACDS board and vice president and director of corporate development for Patton Harris Rust & Associates in Chantilly, Virginia, recalls first meeting Koch in the early 1980s when she was working for the City of Annapolis. “I was Planning and Zoning director. When there was a change, I immediately thought of Kathy Koch. She was out of the area, but just as we needed her, she came back to work, again, for the city. Under Neal her function was privatized for more flexibility. She’s done an outstanding job. She has a commitment to and passion for the work that she does. The entire board relies upon her and her staff immensely.

“She’s made a long-term commitment to Anne Arundel County—and that’s rare these days.”

ACDS board member and treasurer Walter N. Chitwood comments, “She is an innovative and extremely dedicated public servant. She is passionate about her role to help people through ACDS, Inc. Kathy focuses on the job to be accomplished and organizes her resources to get the job done. She does not become discouraged by obstacles.” When roadblocks emerge, he says, “She seeks solutions to overcome them and marches on.”

Chitwood, a partner in the Pascal Group, LLC, notes, “ACDS has demonstrated that the combination of a leader—County Executive Robert R. Neal—who is willing to be creative and take risks, and an implementer, like Kathy Koch, who can convert a good idea into a practical and well-functioning solution, can produce significant results in terms of public benefit outside of the traditional government structure.”

Among the staffers at ACDS are housing finance advisors who can package loans, handle underwriting, and teach first-time homeowners how to handle the various responsibilities of being a property owner. ACDS’s construction staffers prepare “write ups” for various projects, work with contractors, and handle implementation of the project. ACDS also has administrative and financial personnel and planners who set up policies.

Koch points out that, as a nonprofit, ACDS is able to purchase property and put together financing to modernize the units on the property and make it affordable for the tenants. “If we were part of county government, we’d have to find someone else to do it.”

Koch grew up in Tonawanda, New York, a town sandwiched between Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and the Erie Canal. As a teen she was a Niagara Falls tour guide. She’d pick up her fares in a limousine and tour both sides of the divide.

Educated in the area’s Catholic schools, she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in public affairs, from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1978 and earned her master’s of science degree there two years later.

Koch is the fifth of 13 Irish-American siblings, who’ve spread beyond Western New York to Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Alabama, Virginia, and Israel. She is married to Dr. Richard Koch, who recently sold his private chiropractic practice in Capitol Heights. Though the Kochs have no children she proudly dotes on her 29 nieces and nephews. The couple has lived in Silver Spring and Crofton and now lives in the River Club Estates community, not far from Camp Letts. She spends her “me time” sailing with her husband or working out at S outh River Fitness.

Her move to Maryland in early 1980 was serendipitous. As industrial jobs dried up young adults were migrating out of Buffalo at a high rate, beginning in the ’70s. “A lot of my friends moved to Texas and my husband wanted to leave, too. Maryland was a compromise.”

Her long career in the Annapolis area was interrupted for 15 months, spent in Hanover Park, Illinois, where her husband initially moved after completing his premed studies in the mid-’80s. In ’87 she returned to Anne Arundel County to serve as head of the Housing & Community Development department.

“When the decision was made by Neal to privatize the department, I chose to come and create the nonprofit. The first few years I had to do everything on my own. The Bates project took 10 years,” she points out. “I was committed to staying until the project was completed. The Bates project is something I’m proudest of, though I have strong feelings for Galesville and Bacontown. Bates had five different users and 13 different sources of financing. It was absolutely wonderful working with people who graduated from the former high school.

“The project was something that hadn’t been done and needed to be done. It’s a beautiful building and it needed to be saved. A lot of people working together in the 1980s got it on the National Register because of its cultural importance.” The 15-acre site now encompasses a senior center, senior housing—many Bates High School graduates live in those apartments—a Boys & Girls Club, the Legacy Center, and ball fields. The county owns the fields but the City of Annapolis is responsible for their management.

“It laid around so long not getting done, because it was so complicated,” she says. To get it done required all her staff’s talents in land-use skills, building permit knowledge, financing skills, planning, and visionary community relations.

“We had the most fun planning the grand opening,” she says. The event generated pages of highly positive press in all three local newspapers.

“We didn’t hire an event planner. We had a ball doing it. It was a daylong opening, which over 1,000 people attended. Many of the Homecoming Queens from all the years came back. They arrived in loaner cars, just like a real homecoming. The highlight of the day came near the end when Tony Spencer sang ‘My Cherie Amour.’

“I’m very happy with my job. There are other challenges to be conquered,” she says smiling. As her focus shifts to the western and northern parts of the county, in an effort to provide more affordable housing, the 10-unit Treeside Park is at the top of ACDS’s list. The organization is also buying and redoing houses in Brooklyn Park and Still Meadows in Severn. Plus, there’s the renovation of a Rosenwald schoolhouse in Marley Neck.” (Around 1912 Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, began to fund an initiative by Booker T. Washington to build rural schools to improve the quality of public education for African Americans. Nearly 5,000 Rosenwald schools were built; close to 150 in Maryland.)

Robert “Bob” G. Kramer, ACDS vice president and president of Kramer & Associates, Inc., in Annapolis comments: “Kathy is a very remarkable individual and an enormous asset to Anne Arundel County. Rarely have I encountered anyone as knowledgeable about programs, financing, and other issues regarding housing for low-income and special needs folks.

“She does an incredible job and has an encyclopedic memory,” continues Kramer. “What sets her apart is her undefeatable determination to find a way to make programs work and get people to work together. She cobbled together different financing sources and kept the Bates project on track.

“You know any project ACDS does is going to be done in a first-class way.”