Alexander Hazel of Champaign Center Partnership

In the realm of community leadership, there are some figures who simply transcend their titles to engrain themselves in their work and become the heartbeat of what they do. For three years, Alexander “Xander” Hazel has done just that leading the Champaign Center Partnership. From the minute to the major and everything in between happening in Champaign Center, Xander has been at the helm of this partnership, navigating the organization through pandemic and after. As he stands on the brink of a new chapter, stepping away from his role and embracing opportunities beyond our familiar commercial districts, I had the privilege of sitting down with him to delve into his journey with the partnership, the lessons he’s gained, and his aspirations for the future of this thriving collaboration.

How did you get involved with Champaign Center Partnership?

I initially joined as a manager at the former Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, a CCP member business. Elected to CCP’s board in 2018, I embraced the chance to support the organization, volunteer on committees, and connect with fellow business owners and managers. Serving on committees like the Parade of Lights allowed me to make a difference in the downtown neighborhood. When the previous director left, I felt inspired to apply for the executive director position, stepping into the role in early 2020 right before the pandemic.

How has the Partnership grown in your time as Executive Director?

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve bounced back to normal operations and introduced new experiences. Notably, we organized StreetFest in downtown and campustown for the first time, and added two food walks concepts in the event. We’ve also bulked up our promotional capacity with fun, new advertising campaigns throughout the year. It’s been a journey, navigating uncertainties but also celebrating our many successes.

Credit: CCP / Darrell Hoemann Photography

What was something you've learned on the job during your time at CCP?

The most significant lesson from my time at CCP is the value of all ideas. In 2020, for example, a unique suggestion for a “shoebox” Parade of Lights became a massive success, reinforcing the notion that there are no bad ideas when it comes to community development.

Credit: CCP
Credit: CCP

What are your hopes for CCP in the future?

I’m optimistic about upcoming infrastructure developments like the Illinois Terminal expansion, Boneyard Greenway expansion, and Bicycle Implementation Plan, which aim at fostering community connectivity. Initiatives like the Neil Street Plaza and other projects in downtown will shape the area, and organizations like CCP and 40North can transform these physical spaces into vibrant social centers with the help of community-minded individuals and businesses.

Credit: CCP / V. Mullen Media

What is next for you?

I’m thrilled to join the communications team at the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, where I’ll be sharing the stories of scientific research occurring throughout Illinois and the incredible people behind it.

Any final thoughts for our readers before you move on?

I’d like to emphasize the critical role of supporting local businesses in the community. Every dollar spent at a Champaign business contributes to Champaign’s economy, with 67 cents staying right here. It’s an easy and powerful way to make an impact.