With more than 100 applications from around the country, Downtown Madison Inc. had a vast pool of candidates from which to choose its next president.

But the board of directors of the organization that promotes the health of the city’s core found its candidate at the corner of Monroe and Regent streets.

Jason Ilstrup, general manager at HotelRed since 2011, was named Tuesday to succeed Susan Schmitz, who has led DMI for 19 years and will retire from the post at the end of the year. Ilstrup will begin his duties Jan. 2.

“Jason brings a really unique skill set and he has such a unique background of service, political and legislative experience that is really special,” said Stacy Nemeth, chair of DMI’s board of directors. “He has a true passion for helping people and making an impact on a city. He has the ability to make connections with people and find middle ground.”

Ilstrup, 40, will begin his role as the city’s Downtown continues to grow with new restaurants, apartments and other amenities, but faces challenges like rising rents, homelessness and attracting more retail. Ilstrup said other issues include attracting more jobs and employees, improving transportation networks and making Downtown inviting for all ages and genders.

“I just love this city,” Illstrup said. “To get the opportunity to make this more my home and grow the city I love is just an amazing opportunity.”

The announcement came the morning after the DMI annual dinner at Monona Terrace on Monday night that was attended by more than 700 people. The event honored Schmitz, an avid biker, who was presented with a custom bike rack in the shape of the state Capitol that will be installed for public use at Lisa Link Peace Park at State and West Gilman streets.

“Susan leaves very big shoes to fill,” Nemeth said. “She is such a force in this community. She will do a tremendous job of helping Jason with the transition.”

Ilstrup is a Minneapolis native and a graduate of Boston University. He received his law degree from the University of Minnesota. He worked in the Peace Corps, including two years in Niger, served as a legislative aide in both Washington, D.C., and Madison, and spent three years at the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee before joining HotelRed.

As project director for development at the hotel, Ilstrup worked with the city and neighborhood on a controversial plan, ultimately approved in August, to add three floors and 39 rooms to the four-story, 48-room building. Ilstrup lives in the Nakoma neighborhood with his wife, Rachel Sattler, a lifelong resident of the city, and their two toy poodles.

“I’ve never lived in the suburbs and the only time I haven’t lived in the city was my time in the bush with the Peace Corps,” Ilstrup said. “I’m a city guy through and through.”

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Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.