Ambassadors debut in downtown; Little Rock’s first 2 envoys to increase safety, offer help in area

Posted: February 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Gabe Holstrom (left), executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, introduces two downtown “ambassadors” — Donovan James (center), and Aaron Clark — on Wednesday. The ambassadors will help visitors and shoo away panhandlers.

The Downtown Little Rock Partnership has hired two people to stroll the central business district to provide information and offer assistance to people, as well as report maintenance issues.

One of the responsibilities of downtown Little Rock's first two ambassadors -- Donovan James, 30, and Aaron Clark, 24, who are trained security guards -- is also to monitor panhandlers.

"These ambassadors really are a reflection of the openness and welcomeness that we want people to understand and realize on Main Street," Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said at a news conference at Main and Sixth streets Wednesday afternoon. "We've had issues in the past with panhandling, aggressive panhandling. We find that this [program] is very important to give an added level of safety and security for people down here whether it will be the theater or our restaurants."

Similar programs have been used in downtowns around the nation, including San Francisco and Albuquerque, N.M. to cities closer to home, including Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, and Mobile, Ala.

The Argenta District of North Little Rock has had an ambassador program for 10 years, said Donna Hardcastle, executive director of the Argenta Downtown Council.

Two North Little Rock ambassadors work 5- 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, assisting people in finding parking spaces or escorting employees to their vehicles , she said.

[EMAIL UPDATES: Get free breaking news alerts, daily newsletters with top headlines delivered to your inbox]

"They've been very well-received," Hardcastle said. "They help present a real safe environment."

Stodola said the ambassadors will help protect the private-sector investment made in downtown Little Rock.

"Over the last 36 months, there's been over $125 million of private-sector investment ... not only for businesses, the arts, but certainly creating a new activity and people on the street," he said. "And we want to make sure that they're safe. We want to make sure this is a place people find as welcoming and one where people want to frequent often."

The city's police, parks and maintenance personnel will work with the ambassadors, but the Downtown Little Rock Partnership is paying for them, said Gabe Holmstrom, the organization's executive director.

The ambassadors "are going to look for maintenance needs -- lights that may be out, sidewalks that may have a piece of concrete coming up that needs to be addressed, identify graffiti and broken glass and other things like that that we can work with the city and the property owners and get addressed," he said. "They will be the eyes and ears on the front lines to be able to maintain the place that we call our downtown."

Holmstrom also said the ambassadors would help people find their way around downtown Little Rock.

"They are going to serve as escorts for people who want to walk, say, from a restaurant down Main Street up to the Repertory Theatre or somebody -- a visitor from out of town -- who's walked or taken Uber to a restaurant and wants to walk back to their hotel," Holmstrom said.

"They are going to be able to walk people back and give them a sense of security ... They are also going to be an extra set of eyes and ears in close contact with the Police Department as we address these issues in a growing and vibrant downtown."

With regard to panhandlers, the ambassadors "are going to urge them to keep moving and be on their way, as well as working with LRPD when necessary to create a better environment for our citizens and our visitors to our downtown," Holmstrom said.

"They have a history of working in downtown Little Rock and are familiar with the dynamics that exist down here."

The ambassadors will each have a smartphone that has an app to track maintenance issues and the ambassador's interactions with the public, he said.

Business on 02/16/2017