Susan Edmondson heard the challenge last fall, coming from strangers who had spent a week in June visiting and evaluating Colorado Springs.
Along with a roomful of other civic leaders, Edmondson nodded with approval as the Urban Land Institute's front man, former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, emphasized four months later how much Colorado Springs needed a true "champion" for downtown.
Nobody knew then who might be that champion. Now we know — it's Edmondson, chosen last week to become the Downtown Partnership's new CEO, starting in March.
"I do think it might have planted the seed for others," Edmondson said of the ULI recommendation, "but actually, my fire has been stoked for downtown since I moved to Colorado Springs more than 20 years ago."
Edmondson, a California native, knows all too well that the city has had numerous other studies, plans and timetables that never moved beyond the dream stage. Now she senses a fresh optimism — which had much to do with leaving the Bee Vradenburg Foundation after 10 years to take this job.
"I have to say, I've never seen so much coalescing around downtown as we have at this time," Edmondson says. "The political leadership, civic and business people, all realize it's so crucial to our future. Sometimes you need outsiders to look at your community with fresh eyes, and that's what this was.
"We forget that we built this great park [America the Beautiful] that we could better utilize. We forget that we have another very nice downtown park, Acacia. And we forget about the quality of events that we already have, but could be amped up even more."
Edmondson's best asset might be her combination of experience and youth. She's worked in media at the Gazette, then the nonprofit world, promoting the arts and entertainment scene. Still in her 40s, she's also in that perfect spot — not too young to command others' attention, but not too old to relate to the city's vital 18-to-54 demographic. And she has no learning curve, because she always has had her finger on the local pulse.
So what would qualify as her biggest hopes? First, she says, let's not try to copy other cities.
"I hesitate to say what we should want to be," she says. "Actually, we don't have to look far to find ideas that could help us. We can learn from Fort Collins and what they've done with their streetscapes and alleyways. But still, I want us to be us. The key to this job is balancing three things: one, deciding on our major catalytic projects, which won't be done tomorrow; two, making the most of special events, helping retailers succeed, and helping the atmosphere — such as with public art — of the day-to-day experience. Three is taking care of internal, organizational things that can help us work better together."
All that said, Edmondson singles out potential priorities, such as completing the trail around the city center, helping campaigns for possible museums (science, children's and Olympics being the top candidates) and making the most of the confluence of Fountain and Monument creeks. Down the road, she feels strongly about embracing health, wellness and fitness to the max.
"The other piece, though, which is so important, is really committing to getting things done," she says. "We have great plans and great people. We've talked about what we can do. But now we have to make it happen. A big part of my job is looking at the goals for downtown and aligning them with the city [government], the Regional Business Alliance, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, a lot of shared interests."
Edmondson already is developing her own road map of "action steps," not just pie-in-the-sky ideas, but many small details that, added together over time, can make a difference.
"My charge is that I was hired to do more than just maintain," she says. "Already, everybody has been so encouraging, so supportive. Everyone is eager to see real progress downtown."
Granted, as Edmondson readily admits, we've heard different versions of this song more than once.
"But it just feels different this time," she says, with conviction.
What she means is many people want her, and downtown, to succeed. And in this town, with so much negativity all around us, that's a hopeful start.
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