Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Authority may start an ambassadors program, similar to the one now in place in Grand Rapids.
City ambassadors can perform a wide range of services – from directing tourists to landmarks, to opening doors for people at large events, to handing out umbrellas to visitors on rainy days.
Susan Pollay is Director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. She says if such a program starts in Ann Arbor, it would be "multi-faceted."
Ann Arbor's ambassadors might walk through the downtown on the lookout for things that need to be fixed, like "the trash can that was not emptied because it was missed on the trash route, the broken sidewalk, the broken parking meter."
Pollay says a priority would be helping homeless residents and others who need to be connected with social services. "They're an extra set of eyes and ears to help people who are in distress."
Pollay says, contrary to some criticisms expressed on Facebook, ambassadors would not be used to crack down on panhandlers.
"It's a First Amendment right to panhandle," says Pollay. "I would suggest to the skeptic that they point to a downtown that's ever gotten rid of panhandling. I think it's as organic a part of downtowns as taxicabs and fire hydrants."
Pollay says the DDA plans to follow Grand Rapids' example, if a decision is made to start a program.
"What they started with almost immediately began to evolve," she says, "The really good programs evolve. They constantly react and change to meet the needs as they're taking shape."
The DDA has not made a final decision, and has no timeline for making one. The agency is actively seeking residents' opinions about the proposal.
Residents are invited to attend an ambassadors committee meeting at the DDA's offices on January 21 at 11 a.m., or the next DDA board meeting in early February, where the ambassadors proposal will also be discussed.
People can also email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, and post comments on Facebook.
The DDA could spend up to $300,000 annually on the program, with an initial duration of three years.