NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s new Recreation and Parks Director is coming here from Seattle, where he oversaw 180 full-time employees, 10 direct reports, a $28 million operating budget and a $23 million revenue budget – a background that Common Council members called “impressive.”
Robert Stowers was approved Tuesday with a unanimous Council vote. He’ll replace Nick Roberts in the position, who only held the post for two years after replacing long-time Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae.
Roberts said he was returning to Florida to be with family. Stowers, in his application for the job, said he coming to the east coast to be closer to family.
He’s led “several different Seattle Parks and Recreation Divisions” over the course of a 40-year career there, he said. His latest role is Division Director of Enterprise and Partnerships in Communities (EPIC); the division handles revenue generation and partnerships.
“Sections of the Division are Conservation Corp; Event and Park reservations; Golf, Sponsorship and Partnership development, The Volunteer Program; The Japanese Gardens; Magnuson Park (A 193 Acre former Naval base), Park Activation and Park Ambassador Program,” he wrote.
Before that, he oversaw eight managers, nearly 400 full-time employees, a $50 million operating budget and a nearly $4 million capital budget as Division of Parks and Environmental Sustainability Director, he said.
Seattle’s population is just under 756,000, PopulationU.com states. It’s the largest city in the state of Washington, with an area of 142 square miles.
Council members met Stowers via a phone call earlier this week, Mayor Harry Rilling said at the Council meeting.
Thomas Keegan (R-District D) called Stowers’ resume and character “impressive.” Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said she was “very impressed.”
“One of the things that became very apparent as he talked to us about his experience in Seattle is that as big as the city as it is, they were dealing with so many of the same issues we deal with here in Norwalk,” Smyth said. “I just found him to be someone who thinks outside of the box, who knows how to make a lot with a little bit of money, and just have some incredible experience.”
She was just in Seattle and noticed “really creative parks,” “little postage stamps of grass” in improbably places where you wouldn’t think a park could go, she said. That included an art park with “incredible sculptures” in “a creative use of space.”
Recreation and Parks Committee Chairwoman Darlene Young (D-District B) said “everyone is exited” about Stowers coming to Norwalk.
Stowers said, “The one thing I really liked about the city is it’s got a lot of water around it.” Seattle is referred to as the Emerald City and, “It’s good to come to a place that resembles where you’re from, in terms of the way the vegetation and the water, everything looks very healthy, and I like living in a healthy community.”
Rilling said the City began moving the Parks Master Plan forward Monday, and Stowers can pick up the ball and run with it.
“I’m looking forward to that. And as you know, I like to think out the box,” Stowers said. “I’m not a person that says no to things … when the challenges are brought up before me. I’m not one to say ‘I can’t do it.’ I always try and find a way to get things done. And in Seattle, that’s what I’m known for.”
Stowers went on a bit, and Rilling attempted to break in so the meeting could continue, just before Stowers concluded.
He mentioned homeless encampments in Seattle parks and roadways. He was picked to lead the initiative to clean up that situation, and was expected to work with the Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle utilities, he said.
“When COVID occurred, most cities were closing their parks,” Stowers said. “We teamed up with New York to formulate our park ambassador program, I was called on to set up that by the Mayor… she wanted 75 Park ambassadors out in the parks in two days. So we set that up, installed that, it is a program that continues to go on.”
He’s worked with Native Americans on a Save Our Salmon program, becoming its executive director for three years before returning to Parks and Recreation, he said.
“I’ve been known as a person to get things done,” Stowers said. “I don’t give up on things and always trying to, in fact, you know, you might have to tell me that, you know, at some point, you got to give up on something.”