Curious Nashville: Why Downtown Has Segway-Riding ‘Ambassadors,’ And What They Do | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: Why Downtown Has Segway-Riding ‘Ambassadors,’ And What They Do

Nov 17, 2017

In bright yellow polo shirts, and often gliding through crowds on motorized Segways, the downtown Nashville “ambassadors” are easy to spot. And they’re seemingly omnipresent — working 16 hours a day, every day.

All of which drove listener Robin Oquindo to ask:

How are Nashville’s yellow-shirted district ambassadors funded? What is their mission?

For the answer, we pulled from Metro’s budget, nonprofit records and the web — and from the lively personal anecdotes of Andrea Champion. She’s both a downtown resident who sees the ambassadors in action and the communications director for the Nashville Downtown Partnership, which funds the program.

“My commute is a walking commute,” Champion said, so it’s easy for her to notice trash, vomit or dead birds and call the “clean and safe” team for help.

Or:

“Sometimes it’s easier to send a picture. It says a thousand words,” Champion said. “I know I’m not the only person texting ... a mess that needs to be cleaned up.”

For anyone without a direct line like Champion, the Downtown Partnership provides a handy diagram of potential issues and who to call:

The Downtown Partnership's service diagram assigns responsibility to various Metro agencies.
Credit Nashville Downtown Partnership

What The Ambassadors Do

They may appear as a single team, but there are two types of Downtown Partnership ambassadors.

First, there are those who provide hospitality and directions for tourists, along with keeping an eye out for trouble — and they’re usually on Segways that log thousands of miles per year. It would take a discerning eye, but these ambassadors are set apart from the rest with a question mark —  ? — on the shirt sleeve. They’re also equipped with a direct link system to police and act as extra eyes and ears.

“They can see better than you — they’re a head above everybody,” Champion said.

The other, larger group, make up the “clean and safe” team, providing extra trash collection, pressure washing and graffiti removal. These staffers work designated zones with beautification in mind and can also respond to requests from downtown property owners.

These teams have slowly grown alongside downtown activity. The Downtown Partnership shared these clean team statistics for the year so far:

  • Removed 104,273 pounds of trash, up 7 percent from 2016
  • Removed 4,450 square feet of graffiti, up 3 percent from 2016
  • Pressure washed 1,368 block faces / alleys, up 5 percent from 2016              
  • Removed 1,554 handbills, up 5 percent from 2016
  • Abated weeds on 447 block faces, up 28 percent from 2016

The cleaning team also repaints light poles and tree grates, and puts up hanging plant baskets.

How The Ambassadors Are Funded

All of the extra attention downtown is possible because of a special tax assessment that commercial and residential property owners have paid since 1999 — and that actually now applies to the Central Business Improvement District and the more recently created Gulch Business Improvement District.

The tax generated more than $2.5 million in the most recent fiscal year (CBID overview; GBID overview).

That money funds the Nashville Downtown Partnership, which contracts with the company Block By Block for the ambassador program. The company runs similar teams in Louisville, Memphis and numerous other cities.

As the revenue grows, so has the ambassador staffing. And next year, the Central Business Improvement District will expand farther south, Champion said, to cover the boom in activity south of Lower Broadway.