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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘Proud of What I’ve Done’

After a decade leading the Department of Metropolitan Development, Kelley Coures eyes his next chapter.

Kelley Coures has covered a lot of ground in his professional life, leading a major Evansville city government department and also having a 31-year career at the company once known as American General Finance (now OneMain Financial).

Along the way, Coures has worn other hats. He’s a local historian, possessing a wellspring of information about Evansville’s past and present. And, at every opportunity, Coures has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ equality, an area where he says the community has made gradual progress.

He offers his own story as proof and says the words of slain San Francisco, California, government official Harvey Milk should serve as inspiration.

“One of the things he said was, if you want America to see the humanity in gay people, you have to come out and you have to be public,” Coures says. “And so what I’ve tried to be is — I hate to use the word ‘example’ — but I’ve tried to at least show younger LGBTQ people that it’s possible to rise to a position in a medium-sized Midwestern city in the middle of the Bible belt, in a state where efforts are always being made to roll back (LGBTQ rights).”

It’s not Coures’ nature to slow down, but after 10 years as executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development, he’s retiring from government work. He says he’ll stay through January to assist with the transition to incoming Mayor Stephanie Terry’s appointee to the role, who has not yet been announced.

The DMD director deals with federal, state, and local government finances, which may be used for various neighborhood improvement projects. It’s a complex role Coures learned to navigate over a long time. He worked in DMD for the entirety of outgoing Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s 12 years in office, ascending to director two years in.

Kelley Coures’ city government ID card, 1978

But his first role in DMD dates back to 1978 and 1979 when he was an intern during the last two years of then-Mayor Russell Lloyd Sr.’s administration.

“I ended up where I began,” Coures says.

Republican Randall Shepard ran in 1979 to succeed Lloyd Sr. and lost; Coures went to American General after that. Coures counts Lloyd Sr. and Shepard (who later became Chief Justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court) as political mentors, as well as Winnecke and his wife, real estate agent and former Vanderburgh County Commissioner Carol McClintock.

“I had these champions that I could always call and ask questions and get advice from,” Coures says. “I don’t know where I’d be if it hadn’t been for those people.”

While working in Winnecke’s administration, Coures says he’s proudest of projects completed in Evansville’s Jacobsville neighborhood, such as the North Main Street reconstruction from Division Street to Garvin Park. He’s also proud of new developments such as the 180-unit Forge on Main apartment complex, and Baker Flats, a senior housing complex with 50 units that opens in early 2024.

DMD worked on upgrades in the Haynie’s Corner Arts District and other center city neighborhoods. The city demolished about 400 vacant, dilapidated houses in recent years and worked with nonprofits to erect new housing on some of those lots.

Coures says the DMD’s role is challenging because of restrictions tied to various government funding sources, and then attracting private investment needed to complete projects.

“A lot of it is just you trying to be creative,” he says. “Whoever comes along in this job, they need to always have an open mind and use critical thinking: you know, how do we parlay this project into the next project?”

Coures says he’s stepping away from government but not from community work. He’s written one book, “Out in Evansville: An LGBTQ+ History of River City,” and he’s completed a second book, about Evansville’s political history.

He’d also like to serve on a nonprofit board, and he plans to spend more time with his husband, Justin, who he married in 2017.

Kelley Coures and Lana Abel

Winnecke on Dec. 15 presented Coures with a ceremonial key to the city, recognizing his work at the DMD. Coures also is the recipient of 2011 Sadelle Berger Civil Rights Award from the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Human Relations Commission; the 2022 Changemaker award from the Evansville African American Museum; and the 2023 Community Collaboration Award from Leadership Everyone.

“He’s been an integral part of so many things,” Winnecke says of Coures. “The success of the Land Bank (the city agency created to address vacant, empty homes) is one of many I would attribute to Kelley and the team he built. He’s an all-around expert on housing, and so many issues. He’s a guy with great empathy. His historical knowledge, not just broadly of the city, but specific neighborhoods and instances from the past have helped shape our future. He just brings so much to the table.”

In Evansville history, only one person has been DMD director longer than Coures — Marianne Kolb, who served 11 years under mayors Michael Vandeveer and Frank McDonald II.

Coures says he will reflect fondly on his time with the department but looks forward to his next life chapter.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done, of what we’ve accomplished since I’ve been here,” he says.

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