by Max Marbut
Downtown Vision, Inc. was founded in 2000 to be the front-line advocate for Downtown’s future growth and progress. The organization, funded by an additional assessment on properties within a 90-block Business Improvement District (BID), assumed as part of its mission the task of making Downtown clean and safe for those who live, work and play in Jacksonville’s urban core.
One of the first initiatives to hit the streets — literally — was the Downtown Ambassador program, a team of trained personnel who serve as a roaming concierge service. They provide directions and information about Downtown sites and events and act as “eyes and ears” when it comes to security.
Initially the Ambassadors also provided some maintenance services. They picked up trash and scrubbed graffiti off buildings until an evaluation of the state insurance regulations affecting operations of nonprofit organizations — DVI is a 501(c)6 corporation — forced the Ambassadors to concentrate more on giving directions and reporting maintenance issues like burned out streetlights and safety hazards on sidewalks.
DVI entered into an agreement at that time with Catholic Charities to provide the “clean” part of “clean and safe” and since then a separate crew of workers has been taking care of those tasks and maintaining the streetscape tree beds.
The next phase of the process is now underway following an agreement with Service Group, Inc. The company is based in Malvern, Pa. (about 25 miles from Philadelphia) and was founded in 1989. Since then it has grown into a major provider of services for more than 20 BIDs all over the country from Los Angeles and San Diego to Brooklyn, N.Y.
SGI is integrating the Ambassador and cleaning teams and will bring new equipment and technology to DVI, said Executive Director Terry Lorince.
“For eight years we have managed the program in-house but we knew we still needed to do more,” she said. “When we started DVI companies like SGI were out there but the art of hospitality has come a long way in the last five years. We have known about this company for several years and have been watching them and their competitors progress.”
Lorince said DVI’s board of directors studied the best practices from other cities before inviting two firms to submit proposals.
New services will go into effect in about a month including heavy cleaning equipment for pressure washing and graffiti removal. SGI is also implementing an electronic system to track daily deployment routes for Ambassadors and a Web-based work order and statistic tracking system.
“We needed to move past clipboards and pencils and take advantage of technology other cities are using to track maintenance issues,” said Lorince.
She also said the proposals from the two companies were very similar in terms of cost for services and the contract with SGI won’t impact DVI’s budget one way or the other.
“It’s not going to save us any money. We’re getting a higher level of service for the same budget,” said Lorince.
As part of the transition, SGI will interview and hire local employees for the reconfigured Ambassador and Clean Team operations. Lorince said first consideration will be given to incumbent staff members.
One of the things that isn’t going to change is the signature uniform that has become the Ambassadors’ trademark.
“They’ll still be on the street days, evenings and weekends in their orange shirts and jackets and pith helmets,” said Lorince.
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