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Front & Center: Downtown Spokane Partnership president and CEO Emilie Cameron finds calling in urban, economic development

UPDATED: Fri., June 17, 2022

Starting as a Safeway courtesy clerk, Emilie Cameron will now lead one of the Lilac City’s major public policy organizations.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
Starting as a Safeway courtesy clerk, Emilie Cameron will now lead one of the Lilac City’s major public policy organizations. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Emilie Cameron says she’s always had a calling for downtown development and urban placemaking.

Cameron, a Sacramento native, joined the Downtown Spokane Partnership last month as its new president and CEO, succeeding Mark Richard, who left the organization for a senior position with the United Soccer League.

Cameron said she’s thrilled to be part of the Spokane community.

“I am so excited to be here. I’ve been a longtime admirer of Spokane … I’m meeting everyone, working with staff and getting myself up to speed on all the great work that’s already underway,” she said. “So, at this point, I will say I’m still soaking it all up, listening, learning, but really excited to be a part of this community.”

Cameron has more than 15 years of experience in public policy, fundraising and communications as well as leading strategic urban, business and economic development initiatives.

Prior to joining the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Cameron was vice president of Sacramento-based, public-relations agency Randle Communications.

She also held a variety of positions with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, including district affairs and development director, public affairs and communication director, and policy and advocacy manager.

In her six-year tenure with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Cameron championed revitalization of the city’s urban core, rebranded the Old Sacramento Waterfront, supported policies to grow the regional economy and led pandemic recovery campaigns, among other things.

She has also served on several leadership and industry association boards.

‘A civic-minded person’

Cameron’s interest in civics was sparked in high school when she served as a publicity commissioner.

“I’ve always had an inherent interest in civics policy, public affairs, external affairs and communications,” she said. “But I’ve also always been a very civic-minded person.”

While attending high school, Cameron worked for Safeway as a courtesy clerk. She was promoted to food clerk and later held a position as a bookkeeper.

Cameron graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a bachelor’s degree in history and minor in communications.

She continued to work for Safeway and joined its retail leadership program. Following the program, Cameron rose through the ranks to store manager and district representative, she said.

“But in late 2008, early 2009, I decided I wanted to give this professional career, that I spent so much money going to college for, a try,” she said. “I shifted gears a little bit and went to work for Lucas Public Affairs, which was a statewide public affairs company started by Donna Lucas, who is considered one of the top political strategists in California.”

Cameron was hired as an executive assistant at the firm where she learned more about the role of public policy, communications and politics in city development.

She became involved with Metro EDGE, the Sacramento Metro Chamber Foundation’s young professional program.

“At that time, it was a lot of advocacy around developing venues and opportunities for young professionals to stay in Sacramento,” she said.

When the ownership group of the Sacramento Kings was considering relocation of the basketball franchise, Cameron became involved in advocacy efforts for a new arena to keep the team in the city.

“We were trying to explain the economic benefits and we were doing a lot of advocacy as a young, professional voice at the time,” she said. “I was the chair of our program in Sacramento, and that’s where I met and started working with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.”

Cameron began her career with that agency as a policy-and-advocacy manager in 2015.

She was named public affairs and communications director in 2016, a position she held for more than four years, managing campaigns focused on economic development, business support, investor recruitment and government relations, among other things.

In 2020, she became the Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s district affairs and development director.

“I really fell in love with the work that we do,” she said. “You’re defining a place. You’re building its identity.

“You’re helping to make it a place that’s safe, clean and welcoming, and all the other pieces in between, oftentimes.”

From Sacramento to Spokane

Cameron’s admiration of Spokane was sparked while serving on the executive board of the Urban Land Institute Sacramento Women in Leadership Committee.

“We were trying to figure out our own riverfront situation and how we could embrace and activate it,” she said. “Spokane was one of the cities that we studied and we actually had some folks come in and do a technical assistance panel and tell us about what they had planned for the revitalization of Riverfront Park.

“So, seeing it come to life several years later is just so exciting,” she added.

Cameron’s extensive experience in downtown management was a key factor in her hire for president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

“Emilie brings a new perspective and fresh sense of excitement for Spokane moving us forward in the next chapter of our downtown,” Chris Batten, Downtown Spokane Partnership board chair said in a news release last month.

“Her background and experience working with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership will be invaluable for the organization and will give us insight and direction as we find our way out of the challenges of the past few years.”

Downtown priorities

Cameron said her priorities for downtown Spokane include ensuring it’s a clean, safe and welcoming place. She also wants to continue to focus on residential development and adaptive reuse projects in the city core; and fostering a sense of vibrancy through arts and cultural events.

The Downtown Spokane Partnership recently launched a grant program for the second year in a row to encourage new cultural events in the city core.

“I think that it’s really exciting, just to see how we blossom and come out of the pandemic,” she said. “I was walking around last weekend and people were out and about enjoying First Friday, Food Truck Friday … you can feel it in the air that people are just excited to gather again.”

Cameron would also like to showcase new and existing businesses in downtown Spokane.

“I’m living in downtown right now. So I’m spending every night in a different restaurant or walking around and popping in different stores,” she said. “And I always like to ask about Spokane. Every single place I’ve been into – whether it’s the bartender, the waiter or waitress, shopkeeper – everyone gets a little a twinkle in their eye. They’re excited to tell me ‘You’ve got to go check out this place. You’ll love it here.’ ”

“To see how much pride people have in downtown Spokane, it’s really exciting,” she continued. “It’s almost contagious.”

Heart of a city

When she’s not advocating for downtown Spokane’s business community, Cameron plans to take advantage of the Lilac City’s abundant outdoor recreational activities.

“I’m excited to get out, explore and see all these great hikes that everyone has been telling me about,” she said. “I’m making my list now.”

Lately, she’s been exploring the city with her miniature schnauzer, Wilson, in addition to checking out new restaurants.

“I’m a bit of a foodie. I feel like I’m eating and drinking my way through downtown Spokane right now and can’t wait to keep getting further out into the neighborhoods,” she said. “But really, I’m excited to be a neighbor, be a part of this community, give back and contribute in a meaningful way.”

Cameron said the impact of a downtown is much greater than its physical footprint. It’s the heart of a city, an intersection of commerce, investment, arts and culture.

“A lot of people in this industry of downtown development, urban placemaking – we’re very passionate. It’s more than just a job,” she said. “I will say that embodies me.

“I’m just really excited that I have been given this opportunity and I want to be a part of Spokane for a long time to come,” she said.

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