Every day, thousands of people pass through downtown Cincinnati in areas like Fountain and Government Squares, and those streets don’t clean themselves. At any given time, there are as many as 20 Downtown Ambassadors
out with brooms, trash pickers and police radios keeping the sidewalks clean, safe and hospitable.
“Ambassadors go above and beyond, and put the icing on the cake of services in Cincinnati,” says David Thomas, Director of Ambassador Services.
From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each weekday, and until midnight on weekends, the ambassadors fan out across the city to do surface cleaning, sweep sidewalks, collect garbage, clean bus stops, and remove graffiti and illegal postings. The City of Cincinnati collects the garbage cans, but it’s the Ambassadors who ensure that litter from the streets is actually in those cans. They also keep the sidewalks clear of natural debris like leaves in autumn, and hit the streets as early as 5 a.m. on snowy days to shovel and lay down salt.
“There are Ambassadors touching every block face downtown. We want to make sure the city looks nice and is accessible before people arrive in the morning,” Thomas says.
The Ambassadors cover an 80-block area from Central Avenue to Eggleston Avenue, and Central Parkway to the Banks. These are the borders of the Downtown Cincinnati Improvement District, which is stewarded by Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI)
. Founded in 1994, DCI is a nonprofit funded by an additional tax on properties within the Improvement District. At least 60 percent of property owners within the Improvement District must approve renewal of the tax every four years, but support for DCI’s outreach programs has been such that 2013 saw 80 percent support.
“Property owners in the district have overwhelmingly said yes to the measure every four years. Most property owners want to see enhanced services. The Improvement District model makes that happen,” says Mindy Rosen, DCI’s Senior Vice President for Communications and Strategic Initiatives.
As part of the enhanced services, Downtown Ambassadors provide hospitality outreach such as navigation assistance and dining directions and recommendations. They try to identify visitors from out of town or those who appear unfamiliar with downtown, and offer directions, suggestions or simply a friendly hello.
Beyond walking patrols and cleaning routes, Ambassadors are also available through the Ambassador Hotline. Downtown visitors can call the Hotline and be connected with a safety escort anywhere inside the Improvement District within a matter of minutes. Escorts walk people to restaurants, shows and parking garages after dark. You can even call the hotline if you’re simply caught in the rain without an umbrella. A nearby Ambassador will meet you to share his or her umbrella along the way to your destination.
“Hotels have concierge services, and we like to think of the Ambassadors as the concierges of downtown,” Rosen says.
A contract between DCI and Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC)
keeps round-the-clock Ambassador presence in Fountain Square, as well as two Ambassadors in Over-the-Rhine. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority also has a contract providing Ambassadors specifically within Government Square.
In addition to those who perform cleaning and hospitality services, about 20 percent of the force are Safety Ambassadors. Considered outdoor urban security guards, all Safety Ambassadors have been licensed by PISGS, a state of Ohio body that licenses security guards and private investigators. They carry police radios and have strong relationships with the police department. Ambassadors don’t engage people they see involved in illegal activity but exist as a communications network to notify officers of problems and supplement police intelligence.
“We’re another set of eyes and ears for the police,” Thomas says.
Ambassadors also engage and deflect people involved in activities that are not necessarily crimes but that are detrimental to the sense of hospitality downtown. Ambassadors are trained to gently and respectfully engage panhandlers, find out what they need and with what services it would be appropriate to connect them. DCI has a full-time social services outreach specialist on staff to match people in need with services.
In warm weather, Ambassadors wear khaki pants with bright orange shirts bearing the lowercase ‘i’ symbol, which internationally represents “Information.” In cold weather, they can be recognized by their royal blue coats with glow-in-the-dark orange sleeve piping and the “Information” symbol on the shoulder.
Thomas now has about 40 Ambassadors on staff, all of which he hired principally for their positive, hospitable and charismatic personalities.
“We have a company motto that we hire for personality and train for skills,” he says.
Ambassadors also need to have outdoor and customer service experience, as well as a broad enough knowledge of downtown to be able to give directions and make restaurant recommendations.
“And a desire to make downtown better,” Thomas says. “They’ve got to come in the door with that. Ambassadors aren’t just outdoor janitors or security guards. They perform these duties, all the while creating a warm, welcoming environment downtown.”
Ambassador Hotline: (513) 623-3429
Monday-Wednesday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday-Friday 6 a.m. to midnight
Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight
Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.