Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
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An attorney from Richmond, Va. emerged as the unanimous choice to be the next French Market Corporation director as the city agency's board unanimously recommended her Tuesday over three other finalists.

Valerie Rivers, currently the director of Minority Business Development for Richmond, previously led the Downtown Redevelopment Authority in Houston, Tex. The French Market Board will now sit down with Rivers to formally extend the offer the job and negotiate a salary.

The French Market director oversees several high-profile city properties, including the French Market and Upper Pontalba apartments. The job previously paid $110,000 a year.

The board is seeking some measure of stability after a controversy-filled three years in which the agency has been led by three different directors.

Kenneth Ferdinand resigned in September 2010 amid allegations that he racked up personal expenses on the agency's credit card, although he was later acquitted of theft charges related to the spending. He was followed by Frank Pizzolato, who was forced to resign in December in a management dispute.

Former Deputy Mayor Ann Duplessis served as interim director and was considered a leading candidate for the job, but she left the city administration in May.

Rivers emerged as the top pick after national search drew 242 applications. A California search firm eventually narrowed the finalists to Rivers and three local candidates, each of whom was interviewed by a board committee.

Jon Wesley Smith, the search committee's second choice, will be a backup candidate if Rivers doesn't accept the position. Smith is a local realtor who has worked for Talbot Realty Group and HRI Properties.

The other finalists were Kathleen Turner, who manages the Pontchartrain Center for SMG, and Brett Smith, who has managed several French Quarter hotels.

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