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Rebuilding from the ground up

Kevin Rille. Photo by Daniel Santa Cruz. 

Rebuilding from the ground up

The art, the culture, the neighborhoods, the relationships and the people who live, work and play there shape what it means to be a great city.

If others start to notice, the city could be nationally recognized.

Roosevelt Row, a neighborhood of Central Phoenix, was just named one of the Great Neighborhoods in America by the American Planning Association on Oct. 1. There are many people to thank for this award – residents, city officials, leaders of neighborhood organizations. But, there’s one person that should feel a sense of responsibility: Kevin Rille.

Rille, 41, is the president and treasurer of the Evans Churchill Community Association (ECCA), a non-profit neighborhood volunteer organization promoting, improving and protecting the area of Fillmore Street to Interstate 10 and Central Avenue to 7th Street.

“I really believe the key to having a strong city is to have good relationships with city leadership, management and the community,” Rille says.

Rille says his proudest moments as president is building up the reputation of the association and growing the board.

When Rille was introduced to the association a couple of years ago, only three or four community members attended meetings. Now, 30 to 40 people attend each meeting. Rille’s leadership role also increased the amount of board members from five to nine, he says.

As president, one of Rille’s roles is to act as a facilitator for the community. He welcomes community members to speak about what could be improved and what they want to see happen. Rille’s job is to help create a sense of place for those who live and work in the city.

From there, the ECCA meets with Roosevelt Row CDC, the city council, city manager and other community organizations “to be a part of the solution,” Rille says.

Greg Esser, co-founder of Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation and the ECCA, says Rille’s leadership role naturally evolved from his passion and commitment to building a better community in downtown Phoenix.

“He’s a very astute observer of people,” Esser says. “He’s very good at making sure we are efficient as an organization and respectful of people’s time and supporting the investments of people.”

Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Rille attended Washington University in St. Louis to study business. He moved to Scottsdale in 1999 with a small startup company that ultimately fell apart but stayed because he fell in love with Phoenix. Rille immersed himself in commercial real estate, and he was one of the first buyers in Artisan Village, a community at 7th Street and Roosevelt streets in downtown Phoenix, which led to his leadership in the community.

“It’s a very welcoming city,” Rille says. “It really is a small town as far as if you want to help make it better, speak up and take a seat at the table.”

Although downtown Phoenix showcases a sense of place and community involvement, the ECCA and Rille’s next challenge is keeping the community together as the city grows.

Now, Rille’s leadership role has changed to protector of the community’s culture and history. Salvaging buildings, houses and alleyways on fifth and sixth streets and advocating for affordable housing for the area’s local artists and young people are some of his priorities.

“How do you create a sustainable community organization as it evolves with the community,” Rille says. “We have to make sure new developments are a part of the community and not just walled off.”

Jim McPherson, ECCA board member and Rille’s friend, says Rille was critical in getting the ECCA board organized because it wasn’t quite active until he came into the picture.

“He’s not a person who seeks out recognition,” McPherson says. “He just wants to roll up his sleeves and get things done, and he’s been very successful.”

However, Rille’s leadership role though has switched gears. He’s preparing to leave his position as new members transition to the board and he says his newfound fatherhood role changed the whole scope of what a city is and what downtown Phoenix means.

He wants his son to grow up in a city like downtown Phoenix, and he says he can’t wait to show his son that he was a part of something, like the Evans Churchill Community street sign toppers posted around the community.

Rille is hoping to stay involved in the community though because he’s a big fan of downtown, he says. He and his wife recently opened up The McKinley Club in downtown Phoenix, a meeting place for community members and local business owners.

“I don’t associate me with Evans Churchill,” Rille says. “I was lucky enough to be a part of it for a couple years and contribute, and I’m excited to see where it’ll go in the future.”

“Kevin will continue to serve as an important leader in the community but in another role,” Esser says. “Kevin is a very humble and unsung advocate for downtown Phoenix, and there has been a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes effort to help build a better city for all of us and for future generations.” 

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