By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Edward J. Downing is retiring. Again.
The Traverse Symphony Orchestra executive director will step down Oct. 1, just a month shy of five years from when he accepted an "interim" position with the orchestra.
"I tried this once after Interlochen for about four years, and then I was asked to do this," said Downing, who retired as president of Interlochen Center for the Arts in 2003. "This was a three-month commitment that lasted five years."
Downing took over leadership of the orchestra in 2007 at a particularly difficult time for arts organizations, said Kerm Campbell, TSO's immediate past president.
"His primary task under his tenure was building the quality of the orchestra through the last four or five years, which have been difficult years because of the economy," Campbell said. "His greatest accomplishment was just lending himself and his name to the job because he's so well known in the community and so well regarded."
Downing said he's proudest of keeping the TSO — a professional regional orchestra with a budget of about $700,000 — afloat at a time when "most orchestras collapsed.
"I no sooner came on board when the market crashed and my responsibilities became a lot different," he said. "What was important to us was that we maintain the artistic level of the orchestra. We were not only able to do that but it plays even better now. It plays better than (Music Director Kevin Rhodes) ever thought it would. We're proud of that."
Campbell praised Downing as a "great motivator of people" with an engaging personality, who is "wonderful on his feet."
"It's been said that some people are comfortable in their skin and Ed is comfortable in his skin. There's no pretense, that's just how he is," he said.
Campbell said a TSO search committee is already seeking a new executive director. Meanwhile, Krista Cooper, the orchestra's director of development and marketing, will serve as interim executive director.
Downing said he and wife Joyce will continue to live in Traverse City, where they have family.
"But we're probably going to skip away to warmer climates in February and March," he said.