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Ambassador program would provide safety, information services in downtown Decatur

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Ambassador program would provide safety, information services in downtown Decatur

E. Court Square in downtown Decatur on May 18, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — At its March 8 meeting, the Decatur Downtown Development Authority recommended approval of an ambassador program that would focus on services related to cleaning, hospitality, and safety.

The city is planning to enter into an agreement with Block By Block for the downtown ambassador program in an amount not to exceed $496,000.

The DDA also approved a memorandum of understanding between the DDA, the city, and the tourism bureau for the shared costs and the implementation of the ambassador program. The cost will be split between the DDA, the tourism bureau and the city with each entity paying about $165,205.

The Decatur Tourism Bureau and the city commission must also approve the agreement and MOU.

The DDA considered an initial proposal from Block by Block in December 2023. Creating a downtown ambassador program is in the city’s downtown master plan “to address cleanliness, safety issues, also to provide visitor services, and business outreach,” Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said.

Block by Block will hire a team to be the ambassadors in Decatur if all three boards approve the agreement, and the team could be in place toward the end of May.

Over the past two years, members of the public works department have been part of the Clean Team, which was an annual cost of $144,000.

“We have always thought of that as a temporary solution until we could find something more permanent,” Threadgill said. “They’re working their day shift and this is kind of a second job for them to come in, in the afternoons into the evenings to do litter pick up and trash removal.”

The DDA and tourism bureau have also paid $101,000 annually for quarterly pressure washing throughout the city.

“The tourism bureau on top of the pressure washing and the clean team, they are also paying for additional beautification, so hanging baskets, special plantings around the Square in those planter boxes. That’s about $50,000,” Threadgill said.

Last year, the city and DDA hired off-duty police officers to provide additional security on the Square and downtown on a part-time basis. The total cost of that program was $212,550.

In addition to those programs, the DDA and the city are looking for additional services like graffiti abatement, weed removal, having a street sweeper operate consistently downtown, and having someone to help guide visitors.

Block by Block would take on the services provided by the Clean Team and the off-duty officers, as well as some other initiatives the DDA and tourism bureau worked on.

Here are some of the services Block by Block would provide as part of the ambassador program:

– Litter and debris removal

– Cleaning sidewalks, other pedestrian rights of way, and tree wells

– Graffiti removal

– Walking and bicycle patrols to deter unwanted activity and interact with businesses, residents and visitors.

– After-hours escorts

Block by Block would be providing an information cart.

“It would be providing a bit of public engagement [like] directions [and] recommendations for restaurants, but also business outreach, and that’s something we don’t have on a day-to-day basis,” Threadgill said.

Block by Block will not act as police or security officers downtown but would support the Decatur Police Department. Threadgill said there is now one Decatur police officer dedicated to the Square.

“These folks that would be with Block by Block would be supporting that. They’re going to be observing, they’re going to be reporting and reaching out to our Square officer when it’s necessary. They’re going to be providing safety escorts,” Threadgill said.

The city has also seen a need for more outreach to the unhoused population.

“The secondary to that is the unhoused support. We do see some mental illness in our downtown from our unhoused population,” Threadgill said. “Block by Block does train their personnel in handling these types of concerns and this type of population.”

Here’s a map of the area the ambassadors would cover:

A service area map of Block by Block’s coverage areas in downtown Decatur. Photo courtesy of the city of Decatur.

In other business, the DDA approved grant awards for the commercial facade, commercial build out, and marketing and digital connectivity grant programs.

The commercial facade improvement grant aims to support projects focused on maintaining and beautifying storefronts. The DDA approved about $37,939 in grants out of the $100,000 available for the program.

Here are the approved commercial facade grant awards:

– Kelly’s Market, 308 East Howard Avenue

Project: front aluminum and glass store front double doors with transom. New doors will also be more secure.

– Pichulik Properties, 114 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Suite C

Project: painting, wood repair, deferred maintenance of Watkins Building.

– Swem School, 114 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Suite B

Project: repainting and refreshing of façade and signage.

– The Reading Room, 429 Church Street

Project: a facade mural.

– Hell Yeah Gluten Free, 308 West Ponce de Leon Avenue, Suite G

Project: new signage for retail space.

– Kelly’s Market, 308 West Howard Avenue

Project: repairing and painting existing steel awning black.

The commercial build-out improvement grant aims to help businesses and property owners improve the inside of their buildings. Eligible projects include improvements like wall, floor, or ceiling improvements or repairs, HVAC installation and upgrades, and ADA accessibility improvements, among other projects.

The DDA awarded a total of $13,150 of the $75,000 available for the program.

Here are the approved commercial build-out grant awards:

– Cereal Lab, 335 W. Ponce de Leon Avenue

Project: bathroom painting and design, including a new toilet and sink; and replacing kitchen entry swing doors and new epoxy on floors.

– Montesori Academy of Decatur, 189A Sams Street

Project: increase the size of the restroom in the toddler classroom and add an additional toilet to the student restroom.

– Bleu Hanger, 303 East College Avenue

Project: replace flooring.

The marketing and digital connectivity grant program aims to improve businesses’ digital marketing presence by supporting the design and production of digital content and marketing materials.

“The scope of work that is eligible is the brand and logo design, website design, video shoots or photoshoots, and ad campaigns on Instagram or Facebook [and any additional platforms],” Business Development Manager Shirley Baylis previously said.

The DDA approved $3,250 out of the $25,000 available for the grant program.

Here are the approved marketing grant awards:

– Lubell Consulting, 141 Ridley Lane

Project: 1.) Content Audit: collect and evaluate existing web and other digital marketing assets. 2.) Content Strategy: Prioritize and implement new content toward marketing funnel/call to action. 3.) Site redesign: choose and build a hosting platform, visual theme and populate with the content strategy. 4.) SEO: optimize the site for target audience.

– Maylan Group d/b/a Montessori Academy of Decatur, 189A Sams Street

Project: weekly ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram. These ongoing ad campaigns would assist in enhancing brand recognition and connect with prospective families to increase school enrollment.

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