Downtown Fort Smith ambassador program fully staffed

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 854 views 

Fort Smith’s Downtown Ambassadors program is now fully staffed and ambassadors are hoping to make a difference for both business owners and visitors to Fort Smith downtown.

The Fort Smith Central Improvement Business District (CBID) board approved a $253,000 budget for 2023 incorporating funds raised with the 2023 assessment of properties in the district, which was approved Nov. 1 to begin this year by the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

The ordinance passed by the board of directors allows the CBID, a semi-autonomous governing body, to levy a supplemental annual assessment of up to 10 mils on real property within the CBID boundaries – primarily in downtown Fort Smith. The assessment for 2023 is 8 mils.

The CBID agreed to use assessment funds to support an ambassador program with Fort Smith police officers as part of a downtown Safety and Security program, and a Green and Clean project. Both were estimated to cost about $110,000 in 2023, according to the approved budget.

The Fort Smith Police Department hired Jon Raspberry to start the ambassador program in 2021. Raspberry served as the department’s downtown ambassador/meter technician. At the first of August, the police department hired Saylor Steward and Allyson Wilson, as part time ambassadors. With the hiring of the two, there are ambassadors downtown 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

“We’re excited to have them, and I know they are excited to be a part of the ambassador program. They are looking forward to getting more involved in the downtown area. Jon, who is an ambassador, really does a phenomenal job and I believe both of these ladies will do an excellent job as well,” Lt. Darrin Phelps, who is over special operations, told members of the CBID commissioners on Aug. 17.

The positions are not sworn police officers but do have full FSPD communication capabilities, which allows police officers to be called for backup when needed in dealing with vagrants and criminal matters. The two new ambassadors do not share in the meter enforcement duties of Raspberry.

The positions are under the supervision of special operations at FSP and their salaries are paid for the CBID assessment. The ambassadors are responsible for establishing professional relationships with downtown business owners, employees and guests of the City of Fort Smith.

“I think the Ambassador program is a great addition to our vibrant and growing downtown and riverfront districts. As amenities continue to be added, having highly-visible and approachable ambassadors who can direct visitors to shops and attractions, interact with businesses, and who can quickly summon emergency services when needed will help improve the overall downtown experience,” said FSPS Chief Danny Baker.

The Green and Clean program the CBID assessment will also fund has not yet started. The city is still searching for a vendor. The program is to include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, and could incorporate care of flowerbeds and pruning and possible replacement of trees, cleaning and repairs to benches, lighting, trash receptacles, litter control, and conversion of lights along Garrison Avenue to LED.