After a dozen years of serving as a successful downtown advocate and even becoming a reliable fixture in the district in her own right, Sharon Evoy is leaving her long-held position as executive director of the Downtown Alliance.
A better “mid-sized American city”
The alliance will be phased out over the next several months, as the new Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. begins to play a more prominent role in the sector, and the alliance’s current board members move to similar positions with the Downtown Improvement District.
“Sharon helped build the strong foundation that now supports the remarkable growth in our neighborhood and downtown business districts,” said Bob Partridge, alliance chairman.
“Under her leadership, Grand Rapids has become a more attractive, more exciting and more prosperous mid-sized American city,” Partridge added. “We thank her for her excellent service and wish her the best in future endeavors.”
Evoy came to the alliance when it started, back in 2001. She told the Business Journal in a email that a number of things have stood out for her over the last 12 years.
One was being able to work very effectively with the board members and Nicole Weichelt, the alliance’s marketing coordinator, who all impressed her with their passion for downtown. Weichelt is also leaving the alliance after six years of handling the marketing efforts.
Another was the Downtown Alliance’s cleaning crew. Evoy said those guys in the green shirts led by Lonnie Theobald made an impression on her that she won’t soon forget, because they took their jobs seriously. They got out there early six mornings every week in all kinds of weather, just to pick up after the rest of us and took pride in doing so.
But what she said she’ll remember the most about her time at the alliance is the dramatic increase in the number of people that come downtown now, compared to when she started.
“This is a very different downtown than it was 12 years ago,” Evoy said. “We’ve worked to create a place where people want to be: whether they want to visit, meet friends, live or invest here. If West Michigan feels comfortable in downtown Grand Rapids and is proud of it, we’ve done our job.”
It was difficult for Evoy to choose the downtown event that brought her the most satisfaction. She remembered being utterly amazed when Rob Bliss’ first zombie walk drew over 5,000 of the undead to Rosa Parks Circle. She expressed the same sentiment for the first ArtPrize competition that Rick DeVos threw together. There also was Grandwich, Blues on the Mall, LipDub, the New Year’s Eve ball drop, line dancing and many more, as Evoy’s list was long.
“Well, personally, my favorite event was when Twayne and I got married downtown five years ago. But I don’t think that is what you’re looking for,” she said.
Evoy came to the alliance after she served as executive director of the Neighborhood Specialist Program for a dozen years. NSP was part of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Neighborhood Business Alliance and the city, and she helped organize, promote and market the city’s 20 neighborhood business districts during her tenure there.
After 24 years of working closely with the city’s business owners in every nook and cranny that is Grand Rapids, Evoy isn’t certain what she’ll be doing for the next dozen years.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Evoy said. “There were opportunities for me to continue with DGRI, but those weren’t exactly the right opportunities for me at this point in my career.
“This is a good time to stop, relax a bit and be intentional about what I do next,” she added. “Change is invigorating, and I can’t help but get excited about having a wide-open future.”