Andy Ekstrom’s Facebook profile includes his favorite quote:
"If everyone likes you, you aren’t doing your job. However, if no one likes you, you can’t do your job."
Sounds good, even wise. But in fact, nearly everyone seemed to like Andy. So as the news of his death at the age of 35 circulated Tuesday afternoon and evening, the outpouring of emotion through Facebook, texts and Twitters soon became a flood.
Ekstrom, who worked as a project manager for Heller Pacific, was instrumental in launching and filling developer Mike Heller, Jr.’s game-changing MARRS building on 20th Street between J and K, and his two-building Retro Lodge complex downtown at 11th and H. Ekstrom was a constant presence at both places, where his ready smile and eagerness to lend a hand defined him for hundreds of his fellow Sacramentans.
"Andy was the guy on the ground," said J-E Paino, project director for the Rubicon Partnership, rival developers. "He got the tenants, he made stuff happen. He poured his heart into the MARRS building."
Andy Ekstrom grew up in Sacramento’s northeastern suburbs and went to Jesuit High School. He then left to do his undergrad work at UCLA, and returned to get his MBA at UC Davis. When he was done, he started working for Heller Pacific, managing properties that include the MARRS building and the Retro Lodge.
"We’re trying to improve the Midtown Sacramento environment," Ekstrom wrote in his biography on Facebook. "It’s starting to become a pretty cool place after all."
Liz Harris worked with Andy at Heller Pacific. In an e-mail to Sacramento Press, she emphasized his skill at connecting others.
"He had the ability to light up a room," she wrote. "His presence made any occasion more enjoyable. Perhaps what I admired most about him was his passion for connecting others. He listened with genuine interest, remembered everyone’s name along with their interests, and made a point to connect people who might have common interests or benefit from knowing one another.
“While I was unemployed, I got an email or call from Andy at least once a week introducing me to someone he thought would be helpful to talk to as part of my job search."
Bay Miry, of the development firm D&S Development, said that Andy "was an integral part of Midtown/downtown. He was a key part of what is going on down here."
"He was genuine, he had great perspective on things," added Miry. "Everyone around here is just shocked."
Part of the shock is the manner of Ekstrom’s death. He was found Tuesday morning near the American River at Sutter’s Landing, the new park at the northeast corner of downtown. There was a handgun by his side, and a police spokesman told Sacramento Press that his wound "appeared to be self-inflicted."
The circumstances of his death don’t fit at all with the universal view of Andy, virtually all expressions of which include a mention of his ready smile, his long friendships and his love of social gatherings.
"It just doesn’t make any sense," says one friend who prefers to be anonymous. "People have all sorts of issues that they don’t show anyone. But Andy was just so bright, so upbeat…it’s just crazy, it drives you nuts trying to figure it out."
But it is Andy’s smile, his work, and his generous, inclusive spirit that are being celebrated now.
Ali Mackani is owner of Lounge on 20, one of the businesses in the MARRS building that was so important to Andy.
"It’s always been a personal communication, it was never a manager-tenant relationship," says Mackani. "I think that’s how he dealt with everyone else in the building.
"Everyone called him the unofficial mayor; he was an adamant promoter of Midtown," says Mackani. "He chaired a bunch of different organizations…everything from business to architectural design and things like that. He was definitely someone that was a leader in our community, (he) would have been a great leader over time."
"He’s one of the reasons I’m here," said J-E Paino, of Rubicon Partners, and another passionate believer in Sacramento’s future. "He took me under his wing when I first came to town, he showed me around, introduced me to people. He said, ‘Come be a part of this.’
"And that wasn’t unusual, he did that for everyone."
Jake Favour is a graphic designer and a passionate believer in Sacramento’s future. He tells the same story.
"We first met when I was pitching Heller Pacific on a new retail concept," says Favour. "Andy met me with enthusiasm, a quiet attentiveness and most of all, a great welcoming smile and support – even when others didn’t.
"Over the next few years, we met often and held multiple events at the MARRS building. Andy was always extremely trusting, supportive and excited to share in what we were doing. He was a bright, talented and enthusiastic young soul and he will be greatly missed."
Says Harris, "He worked tirelessly to shine a light on his hometown and all the exciting things happening here. I will never forget my first ‘tour’ of Sacramento with Andy – we went to nearly every restaurant and bar on the grid, and of course Andy knew at least one person at each place. To say he will be missed is an understatement – there are many, many heavy hearts across Sacramento today."
In some ways, Andy represented the best of what development can be: Creating places for community to happen.
"At the end of the day, a building’s just a building," says Rubicon Partners’ Paino. "You’ve got to have people in it. And Andy made that happen. He put people in the buildings. He brought people together, customer and vendor, friend and friend, and it added up.
"I think his legacy will be all the relationships that developed because of him. He made his hometown a better place."
There is no word yet of a service.
Sacramento Press managing editor Colleen Belcher contributed to this story.