Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Launches Safety Ambassador Program

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) today officially launched its new Safety Ambassador Program, a significant new service designed to deliver first-class hospitality in the downtown district.

The team of specially-trained Ambassadors, attired in distinct teal and blue uniforms, will serve to enrich the experience in downtown Grand Rapids by enhancing public safety efforts, supporting a high quality of life, and generally assisting residents, workers, and visitors.

“Downtown Grand Rapids has remarkable momentum,” said Joe Elliott, a downtown resident and Downtown Alliance Board member who served on the citizen’s committee that helped organize the new initiative. “This program strengthens our effort to continue building one of the friendliest, safest, and attractive cities in America.”

Ambassador programs are proven successful in leading cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Denver. In Grand Rapids, the Ambassador program was first recommended in 2012 by the Division Avenue Task Force, a group of residents, property owners, and other downtown stakeholders convened to identify solutions to pan handling, loitering, graffiti, and other nuisance issues. The Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) Experience Action Group embraced the idea and recommended funding the program in the DDA’s FY 2014 budget.

The DDA in June 2013 released a request for proposals from qualified firms known to specialize in the administration of Safety Ambassador Programs. The DDA Board in August 2013 authorized a contract with Block by Block, which manages 65 similar programs across the U.S.

The cost of the program is $300,000 per year and will be funded through the DDA’s non-tax revenue fund, which is generated by parking fees and other non-tax revenues. No funds generated by the DDA’s tax increment capture will support the Ambassador program.

The Ambassadors are unarmed and will operate – on foot, bicycle, and Segway – in the downtown district seven days a week, generally between the hours of 7AM and 3AM.

They are trained social service outreach professionals, capable of responding to concerns about public drunkenness, loitering, and homelessness in a swift and respectful manner.

The Ambassadors will provide directions, assistance, and information to downtown goers.

They also are knowledgeable about local ordinances, prepared with radios, and will have a positive influence on downtown safety by serving as the “eyes and ears” for the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“Downtown already is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city,” said Denny Sturtevant, executive director of the Heartside-based Dwelling Place and a member of the Division Avenue Task Force. “The Ambassador program is a creative way to address the nuisance issues, ensure we maximize existing – and often limited – public safety resources, and ultimately provide a better experience and environment for everyone downtown.”

The Safety Ambassadors also will complement Certified Tourism Ambassador program recently launched by ExperienceGR. While the Tourism Ambassador program focuses primarily on training front-line hospitality employees in greater Grand Rapids, Safety Ambassadors will be deployed to assist downtown residents, workers, and visitors on the streets and sidewalks

“Both programs aspire to make Grand Rapids the most welcoming city it can be,” said DGRI President and CEO Kristopher Larson. “Taken together with our Clean Team, these Ambassador intiatives will support our economic development efforts by ensuring Grand Rapids continues to emerge as a choice place to live, work, visit, and invest.”