Aiming to enhance public perception, Downtown Cleveland Alliance is taking it to the streets, where they've put new "clean and safe patrols" in place.
Easily spotted in sunny yellow polo shirts and royal blue slacks, the "Clean and Safe Ambassadors" clearly stand out in a crowd, and they're certainly approachable.
On foot and mountain bikes, the "Safety Ambassadors" assist residents and visitors by providing directions to various venues, and answering questions about area attractions and events. Equipped with brooms, rolling vacuums and rubbish containers, and truck-mounted powerwash equipment, the "Cleaning Ambassadors" spruce up the streets by removing litter, debris, graffiti and gum.
This spring, the Alliance contracted Block by Block, a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Brantley Services, to hire and manage these private safety patrols and extra maintenance crews - which are vital to the newly formed Downtown Cleveland Improvement Corporation (DCIC). As a special improvement district created in 2005 by downtown property owners and the City of Cleveland, the DCIC sprawls from West 10th Street to East 18th Street, and from Lakeside Avenue to Carnegie Avenue.
In implementing the Clean and Safe Program, the DCIC and the Alliance work closely with the three downtown community development corporations: Historic Gateway District, Cleveland Theater District and the Historic Warehouse District - whose representatives are on the alliance board.
"Our objective is to create a dramatically cleaner and safer environment for people living, working, shopping and visiting here," says David Goldberg, chairman of the Alliance, which is governed by a 21-member board of property owners, business interests and community development corporations.
very day, the 46 full- and part-time "ambassadors" work beginning at 7 a.m., ending as late as 3 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday. All the workers are cross-trained in cleaning and safety services, says Charles Stevens, Block by Block's operations manager. Most important, he says, "They are all ambassadors, first and foremost."
"Their priority is to interact with pedestrians, tourists, business owners, office workers, downtown residents and others, to answer questions and assist in any way they can," Stevens says.
Armed with two-way radios, the Safety Ambassadors can convey security issues to police, and they're also trained to help direct the homeless to local outreach programs.
"The presence of the Safety Ambassadors will bolster our work downtown and help us maintain an increasingly safe district for residents, workers, shoppers and visitors," says Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath.
Last year, downtown property owners agreed to assess themselves $3 million annually to fund the program for the next five years, says Joseph A. Marinucci, acting president for the Alliance.
"To reach into their pockets to do this, it shows they know this will help their property values appreciate on a longterm basis," Marinucci says.
"We're also grateful to the county commissioners who gave us $100,000 out of their general fund, which just shows the incredible kind of public/private partnership that exists," says Downtown Cleveland councilman Joseph Cimperman.
In combination, all these forces have sparked renewed enthusiasm from downtown businesses, property owners, city leaders and residents, says Marinucci.
"As people see that the teams are helping make the streets in downtown noticeably cleaner and safer, they realize this is a great program that increases everyone's comfort level, every day in downtown Cleveland," he says.
Noting that every successful and vibrant downtown in the U.S. has a special improvement district, Cleveland is to be commended for its commitment to change the look and perception of its own downtown, Marinucci adds.
"Over the years, we've spent millions of dollars for housing development and commercial revitalization," Cimperman says, "but this will change public perception overnight."