After Sarah Harris moved to downtown Minneapolis in the sixth grade, she saw her neighborhood grow dramatically. The city rapidly began offering more places to work and play. However, all the development also brought an unattractive buildup of dirt and crime.
As chief operating officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (DID), Harris has led efforts to remove almost two million pounds of trash from the district’s 120-block area. The district also works with local law enforcement to develop safety programs, and presents awards for environmentally conscious enhancements to public spaces.
Harris’ leadership, said Mayor R.T. Rybak, has created “a cleaner, greener, friendlier and safer Minneapolis.”
Harris’ career achievements had an early start. She accelerated through high school, starting college at 15 and launching her real estate career at 18. When asked to help start DID in 2008, Harris was working in an advisory position at her own practice. There, Harris consulted largely with nonprofits and government agencies, earning a reputation as a community builder and an agent of change.
Photo: Nancy Kuehn, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal
When charged with pushing the district forward after the organization had been stuck in the planning stages for five years, Harris not only garnered support from the majority of property owners in the area, but convinced them to collectively pay $6 million more per year in special assessments. Within 30 days of funds being committed, Harris had the nonprofit up and running.
Harris also serves on the boards of six other organizations, including the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and the Walking Minneapolis Foundation, of which she is also a founder. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband David Holmgren and their three young children. When she has a rare moment of free time, Harris enjoys walking around the city’s lakes, swimming and partaking in the local arts scene.
What was your first job?
If you had to name a woman leader who’s inspired you most, who would it be, and why?
My grandmother: She was a philosopher, mathematician, artist and athlete. I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to do.
BlackBerry or iPhone?
What’s the best way to network?
Lunch. When there is time to talk about more than the issue at hand, you can really get to know people, find common interests and learn about other people to meet.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment so far?
Toss-up between launching three kids into the world and launching the Downtown Improvement District.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
What’s been your life’s biggest challenge?
What’s something not many people know about you?
I’m an introvert.
What’s an obsolete item you can’t get rid of?
Shelves upon shelves of books.
What’s the worst business advice you’ve gotten in your career?
Stay out of real estate, which obviously I chose to ignore.
What advice do you give women in their professional development?
Don’t set your goals too low, raise your hand when you want to be included and work hard.
What’s your ideal retirement?
I don’t think I’m genetically programmed to retire. I enjoy doing what I do, so why stop?