Liz Studebaker to Depart North Park Main Street
Executive director to depart North Park Main Street
Liz Studebaker credited with the rebirth of the business group
By Manny Cruz
A classy Studebaker is exiting North Park Main Street.
That would be Liz Studebaker, the 32-year-old executive director of the organization that oversees the North Park Business Improvement District. She will leave her post on Aug. 1 to join her husband, Bruce Reznick, who has accepted a job as executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, a lobbying group, in Sacramento.
“This is not a glamorous job,” says Studebaker. “But, the experience of working here has been so educational, and helped me understand the dedication and patience required of an executive director, or any advocate. It’s tough work, but so rewarding.”
And so rewarding to the community, if you listen to many of the business people, politicians, residents and others who have come into contact with Studebaker during the past four-plus years (she took the job in January 2007).
One of these is Patrick Edwards, a North Park business owner who serves as the president of the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, the umbrella organization that oversee the city’s 16 Business Improvement Districts. Edwards was president of North Park Main Street’s board when Studebaker was hired.
“Liz Studebaker is to North Park Main Street what the lifeguard is to a drowning swimmer,” says Edwards. “When the previous director left the post for personal reasons in a rather sudden manner, I was forced to take over the day to day operations in order to keep North Park Main Street’s doors open. For nearly a year I struggled with running my business and dealing with all the duties of managing a Business Improvement District. Eventually, we were able to raise enough money to send out requests for the position. The day Liz showed up for the interview, she had the flu and, between blowing her nose and apologizing for her condition, she charmed us all.
“She is even more charming when she is not sick.”
Studebaker’s tenure in the job roughly coincides with — and is partly responsible for — the emergence of North Park as a vibrant commercial and cultural center where new restaurants, boutiques, art stores and other kinds of businesses and organizations have flouorished. The community’s growing regional and national reputation as a thriving destination spot can be attributed to the work that North Park Main Street has produced over the years.
Edwards, for one, credits Studebaker with a number of major accomplishments that have helped spark the area’s revitalization. “She is responsible for the expansion of the BID boundaries to twice the area,” he says, “and a successful ballot to raise the assessments. “She has managed events like the Taste of North Park, the Festival of the Arts and the Toyland Parade so well that they have become major attractions.
“She has attracted important business development, restaurants, retail clothing (stores) and made North Park the envy of the city. And she is currently leading the effort to create a property-based assessment district — North Park Clean and Safe — that will directly improve the quality of the physical landscap in and around the main business district environment.”
Katherine Hon, secretary of the North Park Historical Society who has worked with Studebaker on numerous occasions, is another admirer. “Liz is one of the founding board members of the Historical Society and has been an essential contributor to our events,” says Hon. “She has also been a valuable link to North Park Main Street, our partner in the historical walking tours of the commercial district. She will be deeply and sincerely missed.”
“Liz Studebaker has been a terrific partner in serving the needs of North Park’s residents and businesses,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “Her hard work and dedication are evident in the success of North Park’s ongoing revitalization and redevelopment efforts. I’m proud to have partnered with her in securing funds for the Toyland Parade, Festival of the Arts and expansion and promotion of the North Park Farmers Market. I am going to miss her and I know the community will too.”
Although Studebaker admits that she did not have the experience that the North Park Main Street board desired in the executive director position, she apparently was a fast learner. “In my opinion, the best way to manage a Main Street program is by staying engaged with business owners and residents, solving problems as we find them,” she says. “When we plant trees, we improve the business environment and public health. When we help a business secure funding to rehabilitate their storefront, we improve their chances of long-term success. And when we fight to protect historic buildings from demolition, we preserve community assets for everyone, including future generations of North Parkers. Our struggles at Main Street are real, they impact everyone, and our work is endless.”
“Liz Studebaker has been a tireless advocate for North Park and its small businesses,” says Councilman Todd Gloria, another of her admirers. “Under her leadership, North Park Main Street has continued to attract new investment and energy to the neighborhood. Liz will be missed, but her contributions will continue to strengthen North Park for years to come.”
Studebaker acknowledges the importance that business owners are to a community. “I am leaving with a sincere respect for small business owners,” she says. “They truly are the backbone of our economy, and are incredibly hard-working people. Small business owners are always on call and have a small support network to depend on. They are, for the most part, ordinary people who have chosen a life of independence; their daily decisions dictate success or failure of their business. They are aggressive, creative and courageous… I respect people who chart their own course even when the odds are stacked against them.”
After only seven months on the job, Studebaker relaunched the successful North Park Farmers Market and was able to hire a new market manager — Catt Fields White — and to expand the market to allow for more vendors.
She counts the expansion of the Business Improvement District in 2008 — preceded by a successful ballot measure — as one of her major accomplishments. “We expanded along University Avenue all the way to the Georgia Street Bridge, and also included 30th Street from Howard Street to Thorn into our scope of services,” Studebaker says. “This expansion brought an increased number of business members to North Park Main Street, created more cohesion in the commercial core, and helps North Park Main Street focus attention on traditionally underserved areas of North Park. In short, we eliminated the gaps of representation between North Park and Hillcrest, an important step in North Park’s upward momentum.”
The Festival of the Arts, Taste of North Park, the Toyland Parade and many other programs handled by North Park Main Street all have been bettered by Studebaker’s guiding hands, says her admirers.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me how their BID can be more like North Park,” says Edwards. “What is the secret? I just answer one word, ‘Liz.’ She will be hard to replace.”