Cathleen Edgerly said leaving her job in Howell for a new opportunity in Lansing will be bittersweet. Edgerly tendered her resignation to city officials Monday from her position as Howell Downtown Development Authority director and chief operating officer of Howell Main Street Inc.
She accepted a new position in her hometown of Lansing as the new executive director of Downtown Lansing Inc. "There has been so much passion in the Howell community, it made it a labor of love," Edgerly said. She said she wasn't planning to leave Howell after five years of promoting economic development, growing new community events and spearheading placemaking efforts.
"It was an opportunity that came up to be the downtown director in my own hometown, which was always in the back of my mind," she said. "Pouring passion into downtown Lansing is an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Before she landed her job in Howell, in 2014, she previously worked as Downtown Lansing Inc.'s communications and marketing manager for about three years. In her new role, which she will begin Aug. 26 — her last day in Howell will be Aug. 20 — she said she hopes to build upon Downtown Lansing Inc.'s efforts to grow downtown Lansing and promote it as a destination for residents and businesses.
"There is a focus on the Washington Square area, the core, walkable downtown," she said. "The administration and board's focus is on further developing that as a hub, like we have in Howell, with a diverse business mix, robust programming and connectivity with neighborhoods and other areas, like Old Town."
Downtown Lansing Inc.'s previous director Mindy Biladeau left the post in April. Biladeau now directs special events and programming for the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority. LEPFA manages the Lansing Center, Cooley Law School Stadium and Groesbeck Golf Course, according to the organization's website.
Under Edgerly's leadership, Howell Main Street Inc. was named the winner of the 2018 Great American Main Street Award by Main Street America. A jury comprised of economic development and historic preservation professionals from across the country selected Howell due to its success in becoming a cultural destination with a strong local business community and a focus on historic preservation, among other factors.
"The the award was a great achievement, but it was an achievement of the entire Howell community," she said. "My real crowning achievement is seeing the willingness of the Howell area to embrace some new creative ideas."
Howell Mayor Nick Proctor credited Edgerly for playing a large role in achieving Howell's status as having one of the best downtown districts in the country. "Her work has paid off and she's recognized nationally," Proctor said. He said he wished he could "clone her."
"Cathleen is one of the rising stars in the Main Street and DDA environment with success stories, including making Howell one of the lowest vacancy rates for a downtown in the state, and she's energized our business mix," he said. "There are bigger fish to fry in Lansing, and she'll replicate her success in Howell there," he said. "She'll probably have that place turned around in three months, jokingly, but if she spends five or 10 years there, it's going to be a hopping town."
"So much of (the job) is building a sense of excitement and getting people to move to Howell to live, have their business and invest here," she said. "It's about developing trust, building professional rapport and listening to their needs and finding the right place for them." She said the Howell community is good at "not trying to be somebody else, embracing who we are, and building upon that."
Outreach Coordinator at Howell Main Street Inc. Kate Litwin said she will miss working with Edgerly. They have been a two-person team. "Cathleen is a wonderful human being. I think one of her biggest attributes is she values relationships," Litwin said. "There's no ego. She brings people together for the common good and that makes her a good leader."
The Howell DDA will hire the next director, Proctor said. When Edgerly was hired, the DDA and Howell Main Street Inc. were one entity. A few years ago, that changed when the city split off Howell Main Street Inc. into a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The director is still paid by the DDA.
The change in organizational structure begs the question of whether the DDA will be looking to hire two people or find someone to fill both roles.
"I don't think we're going to necessarily change the dynamic of how we are structured. It's been working effectively," Proctor said, indicating Edgerly could be replaced by one individual. "We've got to look out and see (who) exists around and go from there," he said.