Posted on July 18,2019
Much can happen in five years. Karli McElroy, the Rochester Downtown Alliance's senior director of placemaking, is living proof that is true! In five years, she's done a variety of work at the RDA, and her incredible patience, tireless dedication, and inspiring talent have been instrumental along the way! Cheers for Karli McElroy as she celebrated her fifth work anniversary with the Rochester Downtown Alliance! To celebrate, Karli takes a trip down memory lane with Katie Adelman, the RDA's director of content and communications!
Katie: First of all, congratulations on your fifth-year work anniversary! Let’s start with the basics: what date you were first hired, first day, position title then, etc.
Karli: Thanks, Katie! I began as the events & volunteer coordinator with the Rochester Downtown Alliance (RDA) July 7, 2014. Having never previously worked in the events industry, I was nervous to make a career change, but I was excited to work in such a creative environment. Prior to working at the RDA, I had a regular desk job and realized after a few years that was not for me, so I volunteered for other events downtown and attended meetings by a local arts group called C4. I knew I wanted to have a voice in the arts community and changes that were happening in Rochester.
Katie: What is the most memorable part of your first day (or first year)?
Karli: When I started, the RDA staff was brand new and initially consisted of the executive director and myself. My fourth day was Thursdays on First & 3rd (as it was then called), so I had to hit the ground running with coordinating the event, planning for the RDA’s other upcoming events, and managing Peace Plaza rentals. That first year was a whirlwind of making contacts, establishing new event processes, and understanding the rules for coordinating major events in the middle of a busy downtown.
Katie: How has your position with the RDA evolved?
Karli: Initially, as the events & volunteer coordinator, I was focused primarily on helping coordinate all the logistics, volunteers, and permitting for the RDA’s events (Thursdays on First, SocialICE, Dogs Downtown, Here Comes Santa Claus, etc.). In 2016, I became the RDA program manager and my focus switched to creating new pop-up events and smaller-scale projects like Let’s Play Rochester, Games on the Grass, Social Steps, and the Bookworm Walk, and partnering with various local businesses and organizations. At the end of 2018, I became the RDA’s senior director of placemaking. This new role involves examining spaces (particularly underutilized spaces) in downtown and working with businesses and organizations to turn them into places in which people can have memorable experiences. My current project has been the redevelopment of the Third Street Alley to feature art, string lights, and façade improvements. I recently had the privilege to work with the incredibly talented Leah Bee and Tyler Aug from Canvas & Chardonnay and Will Forsman with Café Steam kick-off event for The Cove (behind Canvas & Chardonnay & Café Steam) which was June 29.
Katie: How have you noticed the RDA evolve?
Karli: When I began at the RDA, there was huge focus on managing and expanding the organization’s core event portfolio. Over the past couple years, we’ve been seeing the benefit other cities have experienced in transforming different areas of their downtowns with art, lighting, and greenery. We’ve started to look at how we can incorporate those types of projects authentically into our downtown. Another recent area of development for the RDA has been the exploration and implementation of a clean, green, and safe program. Our organization has established that we can bring residents and visitors downtown for events, but we understand that in doing this, we need to make sure our downtown feels and looks its best with cleaning and safety ambassadors on the street.
Katie: What has been one of your proudest moments working at the RDA?
Karli: There have been a number of happy little moments, but a big one that sticks out was the kick-off event for The Cove this past June. Seeing the small parking lot behind Café Steam and Canvas & Chardonnay turn into a music venue/art gallery/cultural hub was an incredible experience. This is just the start, and I’m excited to continue working with the downtown community to reimagine other spaces into places that feel authentic and inspiring.
Katie: Fun question: Describe one item we can expect to find on your desk.
Karli: As I look around my desk, I’m noticing that I like to collect art, plants, and interesting lighting, which makes me think I found the right career! On my desk you can probably always find my Dammit Doll, which is a small cloth doll that is made for smacking on things when you’re frustrated! Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy my job, but when you’re in the business of creating new spaces and events, there is a lot of trial and error. In the tough moments, it’s definitely therapeutic to have something soft to throw across the room.
Congratulations to Karli on her five-year work anniversary! The Rochester Downtown Alliance staff, past and present, have been indebted to her dedication!