Tim Rissesco is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, quite literally. The executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission owns 45 Dartmouth t-shirts, that he’s collected over the past 25 years. Rissesco first fell in love with Dartmouth in 1997, when he and his wife Genevieve moved from student housing to a rented house on Rose Street. What was thought to be a temporary arrangement has turned into quarter century of community service and a decade-long career in downtown Dartmouth.
During his tenure, Rissesco has led many initiatives to improve the downtown core, which has seen dozens of new businesses open successfully. This past December, he became one of only 22 people to be recognized by the International Downtown Association as a Leader in Place Management.
“I wake up eager to get downtown every morning and to get things done. I want to see more people living downtown, a rejuvenated waterfront and more locally owned renowned independent shops and restaurants throughout the district.”
Rissesco was born and raised in Halifax, then moved to Windsor from grade six to grade 12 to accommodate his father’s work. He says his parents were active in the community wherever they lived, and they encouraged Rissesco and his five siblings to follow their example. His grandmother, Sophronia Vaughan was also an inspiration.
Tim Rissesco with his grandmother, Sophronia Vaughan, circa 1980.
“My grandmother was always a leader in her village of Fox River on the Parrsboro shore. She was a midwife when there was no doctor on the shore. She also was always the first to step up to help other families in need."
Tim Rissesco at his childhood home circa1980.
Rissesco pursued his passion for public service by serving on student council in high school, then he became president of the Student Union at University of King’s College in the 90s. Soon after graduation, Rissesco landed a position working for the federal government as a Senior Commerce Officer with Industry Canada.
“I remember almost tearing up when I knew I’d be working to help the economy and would have a positive impact on people’s lives.”
Rissesco thrived in that role for many years and found additional opportunities to serve the community by volunteering. He joined Kiwanis and many other boards and committees including the Natal Day Committee, Dartmouth Tree Lighting Committee, Margaret’s House and the Dartmouth Book Awards. Over time, Rissesco realized it was community work where he felt he was having the greatest impact on people.
“My work with the federal government was abstract. So, when the job came up to work for downtown Dartmouth, where I had laid down so many roots, I jumped at the opportunity!”
Tim Rissesco at the DDBC offices in 2014. Photo credit: Hannah Minzloff
Rissesco was hired as executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission in 2012. At that time, there were early signs of rebirth. King’s Wharf was under construction and, new businesses were launching. Rissesco knew these entrepreneurs needed people to support them, so he started to cultivate community connections by hosting public events.
“There was a strong desire for people who lived nearby for downtown Dartmouth to succeed, they just needed a reason to come. It wasn’t a hard sell to get the community to celebrate what we were doing.”
Rissesco says his close ties with community have resulted in much being accomplished together during his ten years on the job so far, including saving the Station 13 from closure and lobbying for enhanced ferry service. Rissesco says he’s especially proud of the art projects that have brightened and energized the business district and continue to attract positive feedback from locals and visitors.
“The word murals, the neon mural, the mural on Indulgence and Celtic Corner. They are part of the DNA of downtown Dartmouth now.”
Rissesco says he hopes the Downtown Dartmouth Ice Festival can make a return this winter. Plus, there are numerous events and new art projects in the works for 2022. Beyond the year ahead, Rissesco says his dream to continue to do everything in his power to build a community where he’s proud to raise his two teenaged sons.
“My dream for the future of downtown Dartmouth is that more people can live here, so we can grow, but that we stay unique, eclectic, local and independent.”
Photo credit for portrait at top: James Arthur MacLean Photography