Kathleen Eriksen

President & CEO
Downtown Tucson Partnership

By Jay Gonzales

As Kathleen Eriksen co-owned and operated her family restaurants with her brother in her hometown in Michigan, she always knew there was more to it than serving up the best food.

“Like most downtowns in the early 90’s, Downtown Jackson was primarily boarded up and desolate,” she said, recalling when she and her brother started opening up restaurants in the city center.

“We both had this passion to redevelop the downtown,” she said, “and I believe that we were an important piece of revitalizing downtown Jackson.” The restaurant businesses and the related renovation work they did led Eriksen to a 20+-year career in downtown development. She led downtown development organizations in Jackson, Battle Creek, Mich., and Ventura, Calif., eventually culminating in founding her own development company, the Eriksen Development Company. 

“I was providing consulting services and planning services for smaller townships and cities throughout Michigan that couldn’t necessarily afford an economic development director much less a downtown development director,” she said. “There was a real niche there.”

Eriksen has brought that passion to Tucson as CEO of Downtown Tucson Partnership.

After getting the Downtown Tucson Partnership job over a pool of more than 100 candidates nationwide, Eriksen realized immediately she’d made a great career and life decision to come to Tucson in October 2016.

“I fell in love with the people, and I fell in love with the downtown,” she said. “I remember the first night that I came here, walking out after dinner and meeting the community and literally crying because I was so happy.”

She’s made a lot of people happy since she’s been here including Fletcher McCusker, who’s driven Rio Nuevo’s efforts to revitalize downtown.

“Kathleen is a downtown rat, and I mean that in a good way,” McCusker quipped. “She lives, works and breathes to make our downtown desirable. You can see it everywhere − flowers, clean streets, events, Christmas lights and so on.”

When Eriksen thinks of the best work she’s done in Tucson, she thinks of late 2017 and early 2018 when Downtown Tucson Partnership, working with Old Pueblo Community Services, found homes for 86 homeless people during the reactivation of Jacome Plaza outside the main library.

A service was established in the plaza where homeless citizens could get help. Meanwhile, the plaza was “reactivated” for Tucsonans to be able to enjoy being there.

“We brought in red tables and chairs and ping pong tables and activated the space with movies and yoga and all sorts of this and that,” she said. “That was very thrilling.”

“It is hard to imagine where our downtown would be without Kathleen,” McCusker said.

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