Annie Coakley, right, and Laura Brown paint picnic tables installed at Fountain Square in 2021.

The head of Downtown Evanston is leaving downtown Evanston.

Annie Coakley, who led the downtown events organization for the past nine years, will become executive director of Visit Oak Park, an agency that markets Oak Park and 21 surrounding communities as tourist destinations. (Visit Oak Park is similar to the North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, which includes Evanston in its territory).

With Downtown Evanston, Coakley created or oversaw a variety of projects to make downtown more attractive, including landscaping, murals and a large number of events such as outdoor markets and the fall festival.

“We produced more events than the organization did in the past,” she says.

Coakley, 47, notes that one of her biggest accomplishments was helping to bring Downtown Evanston into the world of social media.

“When I came to this position,” Coakley recalls, “there was no Instagram.”

But she says Downtown Evanston now has a lot of followers, and the organization also helped tutor business owners in the use of social media.

Coakley says one of the biggest challenges facing downtown Evanston, and Downtown Evanston, will be the long-range impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the growing number of former downtown employees who now work from home.

Coakley says that her replacement will have to deal with “trying to bring people downtown when some of the people who used to come may not be coming back.”

As for the job in Oak Park, Coakley says, “I just wanted to learn something new. The opportunity came up and I threw my hat in the ring. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited.”

Coakley starts her new job on May 1.

The Downtown Evanston board will search for a successor. Coakley hopes her assistant, Laura Brown, will get the position if she’s interested.

Coakley also says she’ll be back often to visit.

“I love Evanston,” she says.

“Evanston is a great place.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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1 Comment

  1. Huge loss for Downtown Evanston. Annie was great to work with and brought her experience running the SSA program in Chicago to Evanston. We’ll miss her here but wish her success at Visit Oak Park. Thankfully, Laura Brown is here and capable!

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