A cab driver pulled up to the curb at Seventh and Main streets on Monday and asked the young man in the green florescent shirt if it was OK to drop his fare off there.
Matthew Kunes-Keller, 22, directed him to a spot. That was just after Kunes-Keller stepped into the Hilton Hotel Starbucks and introduced himself to the two baristas, letting them know if they needed anything to call, even if they needed someone to walk them to their cars after working at night.
Kunes-Keller is one of 12 “ambassadors” hitting downtown streets this week under a new hospitality program of the Downtown Public Improvement District.
“It’s a good idea,” said Krystal, a Starbucks barista. “Last night, I ran to my car,” which was parked past the Fort Worth Convention Center.
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“We’re definitely going to make a big impact,” Kunes-Keller said. “I love talking to people. I love helping people. I’m smiling with everyone I see.”
The ambassadors won’t be hard to miss — they’re dressed in green florescent shirts with the word ambassador stitched across the back and featuring PID and downtown Fort Worth logos and reflective stripes.
The ambassadors will roam from the Tarrant County Courthouse to the Fort Worth Water Gardens from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, rain or shine. Some will be walking, while others will be riding bikes or Segways. Depending on the day, each ambassador expects to cover 10 to 12 miles a day.
Twelve ambassadors have been hired, a diverse group of four women and eight men, said Trey Butler, the program’s operations manager in Fort Worth. “We hire for personality and we train for skill,” he said.
For the past year, the board of the Downtown Public Improvement District and the staff at Downtown Fort Worth Inc., which oversees the district, researched other cities that offer similar general hospitality programs.
Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said the program is set up to help everyone downtown, from locals and downtown residents to out-of-town visitors and conventioneers. They’ll report suspicious people and where garbage needs to be picked up. They’ll also help panhandlers and the homeless “with a very light touch” find the services they need as well, Taft said.
Need help carrying a box from a store to your car? They can help with that. Or do you need directions to Sundance Square Plaza? They can help with that, too. They can give restaurant recommendations or change a flat tire. Tipping is not allowed.
“We see an opportunity to provide value-added services,” Taft said. He calls the program “top level concierge services.”
They’re also very popular, Taft said. The PID hired Louisville-based Block by Block to operate the program here after interviewing three companies. Block by Block operates programs in nearly 100 cities nationwide, according to their website.
“Downtown has new office space coming on line, new residential developments and hotels being added at record pace and more conventioneers than ever before,” said Rick Baumeister, chairman of Downtown Fort Worth Inc. “We have more people in downtown needing assistance.”
The PID has more than 1,600 residential, retail, office and commercial property owners. Taft said their support for the program is “overwhelmingly positive.” It generally covers 335 blocks from Belknap Street on the north to 15th Street on the south, and Forest Park Boulevard on the west to Jones Street on the east.
In September, the City Council approved raising the PID assessment to 12.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, up from 10 cents. The increase generates about $600,000 to pay for the program.
The PID has a $3 million budget. The assessment hadn’t been raised since 2009. It is capped at 15 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The largest portion of the district’s budget is spent on landscaping, street and sidewalk cleaning, lawn mowing and watering.
The Downtown Public Improvement District was created in 1986. It is a special fund financed by property owners to maintain, improve, manage and market downtown. The tax is levied above regular property taxes.
“This is the perfect time to launch the program,” Taft said. The holidays tend to draw people downtown for the Parade of Lights, to see the Christmas tree in Sundance Square and other activities and shopping.