Rick Zolman knows it takes a team effort to pull off a major event in Downtown Fort Wayne. The Events & Programming Manager for Downtown Fort Wayne has engineered a lot of them since taking the job in 2017.
The position requires a lot of planning and a good sense of humor. No event is more challenging than the biggest night of the year. The “Night of Lights” on the day before Thanksgiving is the annual kickoff to the holidays and the start of “HolidayFest.”
Thousands will flock downtown Wednesday for the traditional lighting of the Santa Display on the side of the PNC Bank Building and several coordinated lightings all meticulously planned months ahead of time.
Zolman will don one of his trademark top hats for the evening and says it’s an honor to be a part of something that means so much to the community. “There’s a lot of pride in the work we do. There’s a responsibility to make sure these things go off in a timely manner and that we do them safely. Keeping the crowd safe is a big part of what we do on a daily basis and a responsibility we take seriously.”
While events around the holidays receive the most attention, Zolman and his team are busy year round planning events to draw people downtown.
Newer events like Downtown Live! on Friday nights in the summer have really taken off. Zolman says the event showcases local musicians and all the exciting changes happening on The Landing. “We had over 25,000 attendees this year and that’s a direct result of our team’s effort and the organization I work for.”
Other events like Lunch on the Square, Fright Night, and Buskerfest showcase the city and all it has to offer. “If you’re down here,” Zolman says. “You feel the positivity.” While the job certainly comes with a lot of stressful moments behind the scenes, it’s clear Zolman loves what he does.
“I don’t think I could do my job without having fun. We work a lot of hours and it can be stressful, but the moments of levity where you can just laugh at yourself helps balance things out.”
Lou Cucinelli, WANE15’s Creative Services Director works closely with Zolman on several events. He says he has the right mindset for the job. “Rick’s good at blending the work and play. These are all fun events and you need a fun personality to pull off a fun event.”
Alicia Pyle is a local musician who’s performed at several Downtown events over the years. “Being an event coordinator can be extremely stressful, but Rick handles it all in stride. It sets the tone as a leader when you go in with a smile and are positive. People follow you and trust you because they know it’s going to turn out well.”
The former Garrett Railroader basketball player approaches events with a sports mentality. “You’re only as good as your last event,” he says. “We try to make every event better year to year.”
Zolman says he’ll hibernate like a bear when the holidays are over and another successful year is in the books. “The satisfaction comes from knowing we planned this, we executed this, and things went amazingly well. That’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
In his free time Rick likes to volunteer his time helping kids. He’s been part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana’s Real Men Read program for the past eight years and is very active with the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne.
It’s easy to see why Rick Zolman and his team at Downtown Fort Wayne are POSITIVELY FORT WAYNE!