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DRA's State of Downtown 2021 presented by PNC - Award Winners

Downtown Raleigh Alliance presented a collection of awards at its State of Downtown 2021 event presented by PNC. We congratulate these award winners on their achievements and thank them for their significant, positive impact on our community over the last year. Learn more about our award winners below.

Downtown Advocate Award

Recognizes a government employee whose advocacy and service has positively impacted downtown. This year, Downtown Raleigh Alliance recognized Matthew Currier with this award.

Matthew has been the Parking Manager for the City of Raleigh since 2018. As Downtown restaurants and retailers adapted to sustain their businesses through the pandemic, Matthew worked very quickly and diligently to convert more than 200 Downtown parking spots into quick pick-up and curbside takeout spots. The speed and scale of this work served as a national model for adaptability in the face of the pandemic.

  • Where are you originally from? If not from Raleigh, how and when did you come to Raleigh?
    • I’m originally from Bangor, Maine where I grew and met my incredible wife. When we were deciding where to move to in 2015, we visited half a dozen cities across the country. Downtown Raleigh was our first stop after getting off the plane at RDU and within 10 minutes of walking around and visiting shops and having folks greet us on the street we knew this is where we wanted to plant our roots.
  • How would you describe Downtown Raleigh?
    • Downtown is an ecosystem filled with incredible merchants and entrepreneurs who care deeply about making Raleigh a special place to be.
  • What are you most proud of professionally?
    • I’ve chosen a career in municipal government because I truly believe the work we do is about making the lives of our citizens better. Working closely with merchants and the DRA to quickly deploy a curbside pickup program in Downtown as the pandemic became a reality for us here in Raleigh and then hearing back from business owners about how much that meant to keeping their doors open means the world to me.
  • What energizes you outside of work?
    • I’m a passionate hobbyist woodworking who enjoys spending time hiking around North Carolina with my wife and 2yr old son.

Ambassador of the Year Award

The Downtown Raleigh Ambassador program is a DRA initiative that ensures a memorable, welcoming and safe experience for those in our downtown. These ambassadors are information resources providing a direct, on-street connection to downtown happenings. Additionally, they help downtown visitors and pedestrians have a safe and enjoyable time. The Ambassador of the Year award recognizes a DRA Ambassador who has gone above-and-beyond to make a positive impact on our community’s residents and visitors.

This year the award went to Darlene McClain, DRA’s Social Services Outreach Ambassador. Since starting as an Ambassador a year ago, Darlene has performed 505 wellness checks, 426 referrals for shelter and 418 referrals for food. Most importantly, Darlene’s compassion, positivity and motivating spirit make Downtown Raleigh a better place to live, work and visit.

  • What has been your most rewarding experience while DRA’s Social Services Outreach Ambassador?
    • I like being a help to solve problems. I’m a problem solver. I like to come up with a plan on the spot. Then, I hope it leads to a solution. Trial and error! 
  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
    • Be slow to speak. Quick to listen.
  • How do you prefer to start your day and/or end your day?
    • I start my day with prayer. I never know what I’m going to encounter throughout the day. So I need that meditation time to compose my mindset.
  • What are some of your favorite places to spend time, visit, eat and shop in Downtown Raleigh?
    • I like hanging out on Glenwood. I enjoy frequenting establishments and meeting new people.
  • Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?
    • A few things on my bucket list are to backpack through Europe for a month. I want to go to different soccer venues to watch the matches. I also want to explore the rainforest in South America and more soccer matches. Finally, I also want to visit a few countries in the continent of Africa and more soccer matches. I can’t wait to try some native dishes.
  • What are you grateful for right now?
    • I’m most grateful for my family and friends. Who are very successful, influential in private and in the public eye. But, the majority of them, you’ll never believe we are family or friends. The closest ones to me are the complete opposite of me. They are still good people! You just never thought we are lifers!

Distinguished Leadership Awards

This award honors extraordinary individuals whose involvement and contributions to making our community a success have been realized over many years. This year, Downtown Raleigh Alliance recognized Ruffin Hall and Julie Brakenbury with this award. 

Ruffin retired in December of 2020 from his role as City Manager of Raleigh. He served as City Manager since 2013 and has spent a career in local government service. Under Ruffin’s leadership, Raleigh acquired and developed the master plan for Dorothea Dix Park, approved and implemented the Wake County Transit Plan, opened Raleigh Union Station, the renovated Moore Square Park, , and many more community amenities.





Julie retired in July from her role as Director of Destination Services for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Raleigh, after 14 years there. Julie’s work at Visit Raleigh was instrumental in positioning Raleigh and Downtown Raleigh as best-in-class destinations for large-scale events and conventions and has directly impacted the economic strength of our area.

  • What led you to your career at GRCVB?
    • I came to Visit Raleigh after being in the hospitality industry for a number of years, both on the hotel side of the business and also with other tourism organizations. That was in December 2007, preceding the opening of the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) in September 2008. My role was (until my recent retirement) Director of Destination Services.
  • What are you most proud of professionally?
    • There are two things that come to mind. First is that Visit Raleigh has grown into a first class destination marketing organization (DMO), and the staff and board there get results that rival much larger DMOs with larger budgets and staff. It was exciting to be a part of the evolution that happened there, and I have a sense of pride in having been a part of that. Within that, I was also very proud of the results our destination services team achieved. We were able to help Raleigh build a reputation of hosting stellar events (think World of Bluegrass!).
  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
    • “Learn as much as you can, work as hard as you can, don’t worry about what you can’t do but focus on what you can do; then trust that success will follow.” That advice came from my first CVB/ DMO president at a time when I was feeling uncertain about my career. I’m glad he took time to tell me that, and even more so that I took his advice to heart.
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were beginning your career?
    • When mistakes happen, learn from them and move on. It doesn’t do you, your clients, partners or team any good to beat yourself up if there’s a glitch. Own the mistake, figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future, then face the next thing you have to do.
  • What are you most proud of personally?
    • Hands down, my family. The hospitality industry isn’t an easy one and regardless of your role in it, it takes a lot of your time. There rarely is a “9-5” day. My family has been remarkably patient with me through the years. They have built their own successes while supporting me with my career. My husband, my sons and their spouses, my grands - all are amazing in their own right. I’m very proud of who they are.
  • How would you describe Downtown Raleigh?
    • I would describe it as vibrant and (to those who experience it for the first time) somewhat surprising! One of the great joys of my work at Visit Raleigh has been to see how downtown has developed. When I first started this job, the RCC was preparing to open. Downtown looked very different then. Thanks to the vision of so many partners and organizations working together, it has become a true destination. A destination isn’t a hotel or a venue, a restaurant or an attraction. It’s all of that, all the visitor experience components working together. While it’s true that COVID was (and in many ways is still) a setback, I marvel at the variety of restaurants, nightlife, attractions, and businesses that are here. Back in 2008, it was a worry that we’d have enough restaurants to handle the crowds of attendees for the first large conventions and events that were going to arrive. Fast forward to 2020 and just prior to COVID, there was so much available that it was hard for event attendees to decide where to eat and what to do in their freetime! I’m confident it will get back to that, and even now we see the vibrancy returning.
  • What are some of your favorite places to spend time, visit, eat and shop in Downtown Raleigh?
    • That is a really hard question, as there are so many “favorite places.” But I can site a recent weekend to explain just some of the ways I enjoy Downtown Raleigh. My husband and I attended GalaxyCon at the RCC to say hello to the event organizer, people-watch all the cosplay attendees, and get our photo taken with William Shatner (I grew up with the early years of Star Trek!). After that we walked through downtown to window-shop and later had lunch at Raleigh Times. That evening we went to the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center to see the musical “Songs for a New World.” No matter what your interests are, there’s a diverse blend of things to do. Other favs are the museums (ALL.OF.THEM), indulging in my coffee addiction (we have the best coffee shops and cafes ever), taking a good downtown walk (start at the southern end by Shaw University and the DEPAC, head north to the capital, loop back around and head south again to get back where you started and you’ll see some of the best people watching ever)! It’s never boring. I suppose all 12 municipalities in Wake County would argue that they revitalized their downtown first, but I certainly believe that the Raleigh downtown renaissance set the bar for many other downtowns’ rebirths - not just in Wake County but across NC.
  • What are you grateful for right now?
    • As I mentioned, I’ve just retired from Visit Raleigh. I feel incredibly grateful for having worked with the staff there for 13 ½ years and to have shared in the successes of that organization. The collective experience of working with them, plus all the local partners that make the magic happen, and the clients who have selected to host their events here, it’s been an amazing adventure. And I am truly grateful.