Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc. for more than 18 years, will retire at the end of the year.

Schmitz, who became the president of the group that advocates for Downtown businesses in 1999, announced her decision to retire Friday morning.

As president, Schmitz said, she’s seen the Downtown expand from a “sleepy” area centered on Capitol Square and State Street to become the “center of the city.”

“I’ve seen so much growth and change,” Schmitz said, adding that Downtown Madison Inc. “is in a great place.”

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents much of the Downtown and has worked closely with Schmitz, said she helped transform the area and has been an effective lobbyist in Downtown issues.

“When both of us first started in our current roles, the Downtown looked completely different in so many respects,” he said.

After retirement, Schmitz said she hopes to continue working on projects with Madison businesses and city leaders. She also hopes to work with neighborhood associations to help them set up business improvement districts.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about my jobs has been working with city staff and alders and working on projects,” she said. “I hope to still be involved in a different way.”

When Schmitz was hired, her background was in retail, having co-owned the now-closed men’s clothing store MacNeil and Purnell.

“She’s proven that she was a great, albeit risky, hire,” Verveer said.

Schmitz said she has been mulling retirement for more than a year. Her last day is tentatively set for Dec. 31.

Downtown Madison Inc. has hired the QTI Group, a local search firm, to help look for its next president, Schmitz said. The group hopes to select a new president before she leaves.

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.