Patrons, Employees Weigh in on Downtown Mall Ambassadors
An extra set of eyes and
ears are patrolling Charlottesville's downtown mall these days. The mall
ambassadors have been at work for about three months now.
The group is tasked with
helping visitors and keeping an eye on crime - but is its presence really
making a difference?
Phillip Jones spends his Friday nights tending to the
needs of visitors on the mall. "We're just walking and talking to people
and people come up to you and ask you questions, look where to find a good
meal," he said.
Jones is one of five downtown mall ambassadors. It's a $72,000-a-year
program officially put in place in April to stamp out concerns of businesses on
the downtown mall.
"We've seen a large difference, a large difference,"
said Joe Carr, who works at Miller's.
He says concerns of indecent behavior and public drunkenness
was driving away business – but that has now settled down.
"I really haven't noticed a lot of running around,
bad behavior or anything like that. It's calmed down quite a bit so they must
be doing a good job," Carr said.
The group has no enforcement power, but they do have
radios to alert police if there is a problem. Both the ambassadors and business
owners agree their presence helps deter bad behavior. And while the group keeps
an eye out for the negatives, its main focus is to provide information to
people on the downtown mall - a service that out-of-town visitors like Karen Heath
"There's usually a visitor center, you know, a
building that you have to find somewhere but there's not usually someone out on
the street helping you," Heath said.
For Ambassador Jerry Arbogast it's a way to give back to
the place he has called home for 65 years.
"Meeting people, I'm a people person and I like to
meet people and everyone that I've talked to seems to be really pleased with
the program," Arbogast said.
And for Jones, it's a way to keep himself busy after
retiring from the Army - and a way to get a break from something many husbands
"Have you heard of a honey do list? I said, well that
honey do list was killing me and I need a break," he said.
Ambassadors say, although
the program is fairly new, they hope to see it grow over the next few years and
have it expand as far as the Corner at the University of Virginia.
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