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* DOWNTOWN LITTLE ROCK: The Downtown Little Rock Partnership announced this afternoon that Sharon Priest would be retiring as director of the agency.
The Downtown Little Rock Partnership announced today that Sharon Priest, the Partnership’s executive director will retire at the end of January.
“For more than a decade, Sharon has served as our executive director and under her leadership, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership has helped facilitate tremendous growth for downtown. Her guidance and expertise has been instrumental in the Partnership’s success and set the bar high for the next director,” said Susie Smith, president of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership board of directors. “On behalf of the board, we wish to thank Sharon for all her hard work and we appreciate her dedication to the growth of downtown Little Rock.”
In January 2003, Priest was selected to serve as executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership (DLRP). Priest reorganized the DLRP during that first year including rewriting the employee handbook, establishing policies and procedures and facilitating the Partnership’s office move to Capitol and Main. After commissioning a planning study and retreat, Priest placed economic development at the center of the DLRP’s efforts.
Under her leadership, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership has spearheaded the charge for revitalization of Main Street in collaboration with its stakeholders and the City of Little Rock, focusing on the redevelopment of existing structures, streetscape and safety. In 2011, under Priest’s leadership, the Partnership successfully held the first ever Food Truck Festival on Main Street, a festival that has grown to become a major, destination event for downtown.
On behalf of the DLRP, Priest has facilitated the MacArthur Park Group, a grassroots organization of interested public and private stakeholders in MacArthur Park, through the award-winning MacArthur Park master plan process. She has organized successful clean-up efforts for the park and served as race director for the annual MacArthur Park 5K, a fundraiser for the master plan. Recently, the group raised the money for the first dog park in downtown Little Rock, MacArthur Unleashed Dog Park.
”Throughout my years in public service, one of the accomplishments I am most proud of is the many improvements to MacArthur Park. I have enjoyed watching this beautiful area of our city become transformed into a vibrant place for all residents to enjoy,” said Sharon Priest. “Thank you to everyone who helps make the Downtown Little Rock Partnership such a viable organization. Without our many members, city and county leadership and our amazing staff, none of this would be possible and I will miss all of you greatly.”
During her tenure with the Partnership, Priest earned significant recognition for her leadership. In 2010 she received the prestigious Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Arkansas Chapter for her contributions to the architectural profession. Priest was the 2012 recipient of the Sandra Wilson Cherry Award for excellence in public service. She has also received the VISTA award from Little Rock Parks and Recreation for her work with MacArthur Park.
The board of directors will begin the search for a new executive director immediately.
Priest, who’s been paid $120,000 in the position, has run into some opposition lately both to a tax increase for businesses in the Metrocentre Improvement District, which the Downtown Partnership manages, and to a plan for a design overlay district for downtown. There’s been some question of financial footing for the partnership i the future without the tax increase.