Published: Aug 07, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Aug 06, 2012 05:52 PM
Downtown’s new “ambassadors” wear Duke blue baseball caps and Carolina blue polo shirts. They keep the sidewalks clean, watch out for suspicious characters, help visitors get where they’re going and generally put a friendly, helpful face on the city center.
They are, said City Manager Tom Bonfield, “the next step on elevating downtown Durham to be an even greater place than it already is.”
Friday morning, Downtown Durham Inc. introduced the 10 Clean & Safe Ambassadors, the first visible elements of a downtown “Business Improvement District” the city is testing for the next three years.
“We’ve worked hard to get this team hired and trained,” said DDI President Bill Kalkhof. “I’m convinced that it will make a difference, but we’ve got to prove it.”
Besides the Ambassadors, the BID program is meant to bring extra special events and promotion for Durham’s revived downtown area. But there have been skeptics, particularly some downtown property owners facing an extra tax to pay for it: 7 cents per $100 of valuation, on top of the 56.75-cent citywide rate.
“Give us three years to see if this works,” Kalkhof said. “If it’s not at the end of three years, I’ll be the first one to step up and say ‘Stop’.”
DDI contracted with Service Group Inc. of Pennsylvania to run the Ambassadors, but the feet on the ground are local. Nine Ambassadors got their jobs – six full time, three part time – through the city’s JobLink service. The 10th, program manager Elizabeth Wilson, is moving to Durham after supervising a team in Jacksonville, Fla., and helping set up a program for Hillsborough Street in Raleigh.
The Ambassadors work Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The morning team attends to cleaning sidewalks and other public space, including graffiti removal; the afternoon team concentrates on public safety – directing traffic at the ballpark or Durham Performing Arts Center checking that buildings are secure and so on, Wilson said.
“They’re trained to be our eyes and ears,” said Durham Police Capt. Ed Sarvis. “We just see them as a big asset.”
After the short ceremony, the Ambassadors fanned out across downtown, pushing wheeled trash cans and cleaning supplies.
With the morning growing warmer, Ambassador Mike Ford worked his way north past the old Durham Athletic Park, then turned east along Corporation Street. Each Ambassador has a zone, he said, walking some of its streets one day and another route – keeping track of where he’s been by cell phone GPS “so I won’t be doubling back.”
Cell phones also allow alerts and special service requests from the Ambassador Hotline (919-682-2855; downtowndurham.com/report
) to be relayed to the closest available Ambassador.
In an eight-hour day, he can cover a lot of ground, Ford said.
“There’s a lot of walking,” he said. “You’ve got to keep the Gatorade going.”