Downtown Springdale Alliance’s executive director leaving position

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 1,033 views 

Kelly Syer was hired in May 2017 as executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance.

The nonprofit organization Downtown Springdale Alliance (DSA) is preparing for a change in leadership.

Kelly Syer, who was named executive director in May 2017, is leaving the organization.

According to a job description posted on its website, DSA is looking for an “energetic social entrepreneur” to fill the executive director’s position. DSA touts itself as a nonprofit focused on “growing downtown as a destination, a business headquarters and neighborhood welcoming to all” according to its website.

Syer said her departure is open-ended, determined once her successor is hired. Resumes will be accepted through Aug. 20. Syer expects to have some input in the hiring process, though the final decision will be made by the board of directors. Heather Chilson, a director at Tyson Foods, is chairman of the board.

“I’ve given myself and the board a long off-ramp,” Syer said. “I care a lot about what happens here and about what happens in downtown Springdale. With the high volume of programming that we have coming up it’s not a good time for me to just walk away by any means. I will stay on board as long as needed to help with the transition.”

Syer was hired last year to replace Misty Murphy. Before joining DSA, she was director of development at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Before that, she was director of development at Symphony of Northwest Arkansas from 2000 to 2003, advertising manager of the food service division at Tyson Foods until 2006 and senior manager of public affairs at Cox Communications for about 10 years. She started her career with roles at Walmart Inc. and the University of Arkansas.

Syer used words like “amazing,” “phenomenal,” and “positive” to describe her current job. But the time and energy to keep up with the rising tide of development in downtown Springdale was lacking.

“I have just kind of worn myself out, to be honest,” Syer said. “I need to step back a little bit and let someone else come forward. I want to stay engaged with the city and won’t stray too far from downtown, but this is a good time. Misty was the trailblazer that got the organization up and running, and I came in and added some processes and organization, and now I think the opportunity is there for someone to take it to the next phase of growth.”

DSA was formalized in 2012 but did not have a full-time staff member until just three years ago. It remains a small organization. Besides Syer, the DSA’s only full-time employee is Jennifer Joyner, the public programming manager.

Syer said the organization’s staffing in the future will need to mirror the growth of development in downtown. The revival of the area was the subject of a summit in June called Invest Springdale, an event designed to encourage and promote development in the downtown area. The summit was sponsored by DSA and the Springdale Chamber of Commerce.

Among the recent investments in downtown Springdale, Tyson Foods opened a new downtown office this past November, housing about 300 employees in its IT division. Tyson Foods also opened a renovated office building in the 500 block of Emma Avenue in 2016 that houses about 100 employees.

Tyson Foods President and CEO Tom Hayes shared news at the summit of additional investment. He said the company will build a manufacturing and automation technology center downtown.

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) and members of the Walton family are also spearheading investments in downtown. WFF has invested $10 million in downtown Springdale over the past five years, according to Mike Malone, the former head of the Northwest Arkansas Council who now works in Bentonville for an entity controlled by Tom and Steuart Walton, called Runway Group.

A limited liability company tied to the Walton family is redeveloping the 200 block of East Emma Avenue, site of the former Ryan’s Clothing store and the adjacent San Jose Manor. Site cleanup work is under way, with renovation and construction scheduled to begin in 2019. Future construction on the 0.71-acre site, which runs along Emma Avenue from Spring Street to North Commercial Street., will include a mixed-use commercial development that will feature restaurant, retail and office space. Potential tenants have not been disclosed.

“We have been responding to what is happening on Emma [Avenue], predominantly, and the surrounding area and the growth trajectory has been crazy,” Syer said. “Getting the organization up and running to what it needed to be a few years ago is different than what it needs to be now.”

Syer anticipates the staff will grow once a new executive director is in place. In fact, she said she has already created job descriptions for potential staff additions.

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