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Marketing Veteran Wells Davis Joins Woodlawn Central Development in Key Role

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Wells Davis profile.
Wells Davis

Advertising and strategy pro with decades of experience appointed chief strategy officer for groundbreaking economic development project in a minority community

(CHICAGO, August 3, 2023) – Woodlawn Central, an $895 million mixed-use megadevelopment designed to usher in urban regeneration and equitable economic development on Chicago’s South Side, hired veteran brand strategist Wells Davis as chief strategy officer. Davis, a former C-suite executive at Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and other major marketing agencies in the United States and Canada, brings more than two decades of experience as a visionary leader and initiator to a diverse development team focused on catalyzing investment in Woodlawn and surrounding South Side communities.

Davis’ appointment comes at a time when Woodlawn Central’s progress to secure financing and efforts to obtain city approval for its planned development designations are accelerating. With his cultural intelligence and wealth of experience in a broad range of industries, where he has been acclaimed for creating and leading vanguard public affairs and marketing campaigns, Davis is a timely and tactical addition to the Woodlawn Central team.

“Wells shares our deep respect for realizing inclusive community engagement and embracing a visionary approach to achieve transformative economic development,” said J. Byron Brazier, Woodlawn Central’s lead developer. “His mindset and diverse background, professionally and personally, make it clear he will be extremely effective at collaborating with stakeholders to spark economic development and well-being.”

Strategy Role Merges Advocacy and Vision

Davis has had extensive experience as both a chief marketing officer and CSO prior to joining Woodlawn Central. He has developed and implemented award-winning advertising campaigns and content strategies for leading brands including Apple, BMW, Coca-Cola, Lexus, Toyota, Microsoft, P&G, McDonald’s and Nike. His expertise also extends to development, and his branding work for the global real estate company RE/MAX will translate to his role in elevating Woodlawn Central’s promise to drive economic transformation without displacement.

Along with significant marketing expertise, Davis has a substantial background in public policy and advocacy. He studied public policy at York University in Toronto and has long advocated for and amplified Black creativity and economic well-being in his professional efforts and personal endeavors. He has applied his proficiencies in these areas to pro-bono work for non-profit brands that include UNICEF, the White Ribbon Campaign and the United Nations.

“His superpower is the ability to visualize possibilities and map the path forward in a way that makes the best options not only clear but compelling. And he does this so quickly. As you talk to him, you can imagine the wheels turning and sparks flying,” Brazier said. “He’s a best-in-class strategic navigator. We believe he will be agile and adept at balancing goals and maneuvering contingencies.”

While at Leo Burnett, Davis spearheaded a program to recruit and elevate Black creatives, in part by tapping into nontraditional networks. Davis’s mindset and proven efficacy align with Woodlawn Central’s emphasis on equity and its plan to support Black businesses, creators, innovators and residents with amenities that spur direct economic development and wealth generation, such as unique and experiential retail and hospitality options, entertainment offerings, a hotel, a microgrid energy facility and a vertical greenhouse.

In addition to including amenities, Woodlawn Central will spur demographic diversity with 870 new homes it will bring to the community, including affordable, workforce, luxury, senior and market-rate housing and newly strengthened transit infrastructure. These are the kinds of features that have attracted residents from diverse demographic backgrounds and spurred wealth creation in more affluent communities, Brazier pointed out.

“I believe Woodlawn Central is breaking new ground because it’s truly by the Black community, for the Black community — they envisioned and articulated all the features they needed and wanted during a five-year-long community engagement process, and our designers captured them in this planned development. It’s about community transformation, rejuvenation and revitalization while deterring displacement. This type of community investment gives Woodlawn residents a sense of ownership and empowerment. That’s crucial for Black self-determination,” Davis said.

Faith-Based Vehicle Speeds Economic Empowerment

Chicago’s South Side has long endured underinvestment and structural inequities. Residents of Woodlawn, a predominantly Black community, have a median net worth of $4,439, the lowest among all 77 of Chicago’s community areas. Meanwhile, the national median net worth is $97,680.

The Apostolic Church of God, which has served as a spiritual anchor in Woodlawn since the 1930s, created the vision and plan for Woodlawn Central with recommendations from The Network of Woodlawn, a community-building collaborative ACOG helped establish in 2015 to improve residents’ quality of life. With its mix of housing, retail, hospitality, cultural assets and enhanced transit options, Woodlawn Central is poised to jump-start economic development, generate jobs and celebrate the existing art, culture and legacy of the community.

“The dedication to determining and meeting the wants and needs of the Black community with the creation of Woodlawn Central has been remarkable. It is introducing a new paradigm for urban regeneration and wealth creation with this project—one that is repeatable and can be a prototype to transform communities everywhere,” Davis said. “I am proud to be a member of this groundbreaking development team.”

About Woodlawn Central

Woodlawn Central is an 8-acre, $895 million mixed-use megadevelopment designed to be a catalyst for urban regeneration in Woodlawn on Chicago’s South Side. It will serve as a new gateway to the broader Woodlawn community and transform the area into a walkable transit-oriented district with easy access to many significant civic amenities, including the Obama Presidential Center, Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and the lakefront. It was conceived of and planned under the aegis of Woodlawn’s Apostolic Church of God, which has over 20,000 members, and is based on The Network of Woodlawn’s 2060 Woodlawn Community Plan for Urban Regeneration and Social Sustainability. Besides approximately 870 homes ranging from affordable workforce options to market rate, luxury and senior housing, Woodlawn Central will support a diverse range of Black businesses, creators, innovators and residents with much-needed community assets.


Beshanda Owusu

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