Columbus, Ohio USA
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Short North Welcomes Ambassador Team
Greeting visitors, beautifying the district from morning till night
By Cindy Bent Findlay
May/June 2012 Issue

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Short North Ambassador Team (L to R): Matthew Kirk, Alanda Wilson, Greg Maynard
Michael Pauley, and Jim Slentz (Photo Blair Staud/ OSS)

Come May, visitors and residents of the Short North will be greeted by a few good men – and one woman – in uniform.

The new Short North Ambassadors will begin roving through the district this month, lending extra hands, eyes, ears and aid to those who work, shop, dine and live in the neighborhood.

The program will be sponsored indirectly by area property owners through the Short North Special Improvement District. SNSID Executive Director John Angelo hopes that the sight of the burnt orange polos and khakis will come to signify welcome, the embodiment of the open invitation that the Short North Arts District has been working to extend for decades.

The Short North Ambassador program is one part of an overall strategy to continue the economic development efforts of the SNSID, the agency spawned by and given the charge of installing the Short North’s glowing arches up and down High Street. The SNSID was born in 1999 and funded by special assessments paid by property owners in the district over the course of the life of the SID’s charter – 12 years.

The first SNSID’s agreement and funding stream came to an end last year, in 2011, but before that compact ended, SNSID leaders went back to the neighborhood to ask property and business owners alike if they’d like to renew the assessments, form a new charter, and if so, what would be done with the funding.

“We were very surprised to find out that not only did the property owners agree they wanted to continue with the SID, they also said they wanted to be more aggressive about the things we’re doing,” Angelo says. “I think the general feeling was right now, in this economy, the smartest thing we can do is invest at home.”

The area’s business and property owners told leaders in over hundreds of hours of surveys and interviews that more beautification, more branding and promotion of the Short North as a premier arts district should be the priority of the renewed SID, says Sharon O’Brien, owner of Grandview Mercantile antique shop and also president of the board of the SNSID.

“We’ve always had field staff working on graffiti removal, picking up trash, doing plantings. Now the property and business owners are saying, we want them to be more engaged, we want to see them on the streets more than we have been, which was a budget issue,” Angelo says.

The business and property owners wanted better connection with the foot traffic coming up and down High Street, Angelo says. Many visitors from out of town never reach much of the Short North, not knowing what lies north of Hubbard, for instance.

“We have a great opportunity coming over the next few years, with all of the infill development like the new hotels. We’d like people coming in from the Convention Center to have the ability to be drawn more into the district, experience it all the way up to 7th Avenue,” says O’Brien.

Where to park? What’s past that block? Where can I get sushi? Is there live music somewhere tonight? Those are some of the questions on the minds of visitors from in and out of town, and, thought area leaders, there should be a good way to answer them, to let visitors get a good handle on all the Short North has to offer. One approach is to have someone out on the streets answering all of those questions.

So the Short North Ambassador program was born. The SNSID is increasing the old field staff program budget, devoting about $175,000 per year to the Ambassador program, which, Angelo says, will total about half of the SNSID’s total annual budget.

That means one part-time and four full-time ambassadors will be on the streets, rotating so at least one is out from early morning to late into the night most evenings, especially during the warmer months when foot traffic is heaviest.

“Now, ambassadors will take care of say, full trash cans as they happen, not the next morning when the neighborhood wakes to find the district is trashed. I think we’re going to see a lot less debris on the streets,” Angelo says.

Ohio Support Services, a 30-year-old Columbus company that provides a similar service to the Capitol Crossroads Improvement District and the Discovery District, will hire, train and employ the staff.

OSS’s typical client is corporate. The company provides both custodial and security services to companies around the Central Ohio area through two different privately owned entities, Ohio Custodial Management and Ohio Support Services.

Uniformed safety ambassadors have been a familiar sight in different downtown areas on foot and on bicycle for years. OSS took over that contract in 2010, and it’s been a good experience that the company is excited to bring to a new client, says Blair Staud, the company’s senior vice president.

It will take a 32-hour training period, along with on-the-job education, to get the four new hires ready for their multi-tasking duties, Staud says. The ambassadors’ chief, Greg Maynard, will be a major asset to the program, as he’s already familiar to the Short North and has been working for the SNSID in a very similar capacity for years.

Staud differentiates this program from the downtown safety ambassador program, emphasizing that the Short North ambassadors’ jobs will be to help keep the district clean and to assist visitors.
While ambassadors will be extra eyes and ears on the street to help prevent crime, deal with panhandling sensitively, and be an extra presence promoting safety in the area, policing is not the mission of the ambassadors, Angelo says.

“They will be very plugged into the social service network, to get to know our community, to help people link to social service organizations that will most benefit them, such as perhaps seeing that a familiar face on the street is missing their glasses. Maybe the ambassador can link them with a new free pair. This is another strong role that they’ll be playing,” Angelo says. “But our highest priority is on friendliness and reflecting the diversity and opportunities in the Short North, to be who you are and be accepted.”

“The whole idea of having an ambassador program as we’ve formulated it is very appealing to everybody, and to me as both a business and property owner. Anything that can make our visitor experience more seamless, make the district cleaner, is a tremendous asset to this neighborhood and will have a very positive effect,” says O’Brien.

“I’d say the ambassador program is first and foremost a clean and beautiful effort. Then we have this great economic opportunity to build on the new feet that are going to be coming into the district because of the hotels, so they will provide hospitality, outreach, and then safety and access come after,” Angelo says.

© 2012 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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