Pleasanton Weekly

Column - April 30, 2010

Olson brings experience to downtown leadership post

by Jeb Bing

I first got to know Laura Olson through my son Chris when they were seniors at Amador Valley High School - Class of 1995. She was the head cheerleader and also captain of the girls' softball team. Another way to remember her is that she led the Dons team to its EBAL championship, which no team captain has done since. Now Laura is heading for a new leadership position, taking over May 10 as the new executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association. In sales and marketing since graduating from the University of Oregon at Eugene in 1999, Laura Olson, whose mother Gail Gilpin was the city's long-time Economic Development Manager, brings to the key downtown planning and activity role the kind of expertise merchants and restaurant owners have lobbied for to boost sales and entertainment in the downtown district.

For five years, Olson was responsible for membership growth, sales and marketing activities at the Pleasanton-based Tri-Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. Then she moved to UNCLE Credit Union 5-1/2 years ago where she has been its Marketing & Business Development Manager, leaving that job yesterday to take the PDA post. After a short vacation this weekend with her husband Erik, who is in property management, and their 18-month-old son Luke, Olson plans to start answering scores of congratulatory emails and phone calls wishing her success, including one from Jim Ott, CEO of UNCLE, whose wife Pamela Ott held the same top PDA position before joining the city as its Economic Development Manager. Remember? That was Olson's mother's job before she retired. What goes around comes around, someone said.

Olson plans to start her job a bit early by walking Main Street and side streets during the season's start of the First Wednesday street parties next Wednesday. She'll be talking to vendors, and then visiting with merchants and the restaurants to gain their views on what the PDA can do to boost their businesses - and profits. She'll also be meeting with the PDA board that hired her for more information on what its members expect as she takes the helm, and also with the PDA's staff, Sue Post, office manager, and Alisha Perdue, events coordinator. They've been assuming the leader's responsibilities as well as their own since Christine Salidivar resigned last February to move to Florida.

Olson plans to work closely with EMC, a Danville strategic marketing agency that the city has hired to survey the downtown and shoppers to determine how the local government and the PDA could help improve the district. In a report its president Colleen Edwards made two weeks ago at a meeting of the city's Economic Vitality Committee, those responding to an early survey said they'd like to see a wider variety of shops and restaurants, including a few chains, such as Peet's Coffee. Although there's no ban on chain operations in the downtown - in fact, Quizno's, Tully's and Round Table Pizza are part of out-of-town chain operations - Olson said she would insist that any similar type of business fully understands the value Pleasanton places on its historic downtown and make sure that "its operation be done very thoughtfully." A new independent butcher soon to open at Main and Spring streets is an example of the different types of businesses Olson plans to promote here.

She also believes both shoppers and merchants prefer keeping the first floors of downtown buildings reserved for retail and restaurants, with more retailers of women's and children's clothing high on her list of prospects. Finding businesses that will attract more shoppers to south Main Street also is a priority now that the economy is improving and the PDA is responding to an increased number of phone calls from proprietors who would like to open shops downtown. She's also taking an active role in marketing efforts related to the new Firehouse Arts Center that will open on Railroad Avenue in September, seeing that as a major draw for shoppers to downtown Pleasanton.

Earlier this year, the PDA hired a Santa Cruz consulting firm to advise it on how to attract more entertainment to the downtown. As enthused as Olson is over expanding nighttime entertainment, she wants to be sure the PDA is sensitive to those whose homes have been impacted by excessive noise and traffic by the summertime Concerts in the Park and Farmers Market. As much as entertainment brings the public downtown and keeps it there longer, Olson said she'll make sure that homeowners and businesses will be involved in those decisions.

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