A hotel with a strong concierge service is a bonus when planning events, meetings, or conferences, providing an added layer of service for attendees who are new to the destination city.
But the concierge stays in the hotel. What if you have a question or need assistance when you’re out and about?
Grand Rapids, Michigan, has your back. The city is served by a team of Downtown Ambassadors who work seven days a week to keep the city clean and safe and provide assistance for visitors and residents alike.
Helping people get where they want to go via the quickest and most efficient route is a key function of Downtown Ambassadors – though they’re also happy to recommend interesting stops along the way.
Since 2013, a paid staff of 15-20 people (depending on the season) have worked 7 days a week to keep downtown clean, beautiful and friendly. They give directions and information, walk people to their cars, provide umbrella escorts in the rain, pressure-wash sidewalks, shovel snow, even jump-start cars, change bike and car tires, and scrape ice-covered windshields on behalf of downtown visitors.
Think of an ambassador as your on-street concierge, ready to assist you with just about anything you may need while you’re exploring the city center. You can recognize them by their signature teal and blue uniforms – just walk right up and engage them about what you need. Or you can call (616) 250-8263 to reach an ambassador on duty.
Ambassadors are equipped with walkie-talkies, smartphones, flashlights and first-aid supplies in addition to an encyclopedic knowledge of downtown attractions and events. They’ve received training in CPR, first aid, mental health, community emergency response and other vital services, so they’re just as adept at helping residents who may be experiencing homelessness and other crisis situations as they are at making visitors feel welcome.
While they are not a security force, they do have a good working relationship with the city’s community police officers and serve in an “observe and report” role for any suspect activity.
Ambassadors also work tirelessly to keep downtown clean and appealing. In 2021, the ambassador team planted 45,321 plants and flowers, pulled 95,856 weeds, removed 381,575 pounds of trash, and collected and recycled 430,068 cigarette butts in addition to interacting with visitors and residents.
The ambassadors put out the furniture at Calder Plaza each day, creating a gathering space for the community at any time, whether grabbing lunch from a food truck or drinks from one of the participating Downtown Refreshment Area businesses. They offer dog treats to the canine visitors they encounter on the sidewalk or at the downtown dog park while watering the plants. They help beautify spaces for the year-round festivals and special events that take place in downtown GR. And they visit all downtown businesses to let owners and employees know the ambassadors are there to help and ready to recommend their services
According to data from DGRI, the ambassador team assisted people more than 195,000 times in 2018.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
The ambassador program is a service of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), which uses funding from downtown tax jurisdictions to create a vibrant, welcoming environment for the city’s center and the downtown convention neighborhood.
While the ambassadors are local, the program is managed by Block by Block, a national organization providing ambassador services to more than 100 cities across the country.
In Grand Rapids, a primary goal of ambassadors is to interact with anyone they encounter downtown, aiming to say hello and offer a smile to everyone they meet while being ready to lend a hand.
That could mean greeting the same people they see each day, helping a family get a broken canoe out of the Grand River, or directing visitors on where to get a quick lunch or take a walk in between their meetings at the downtown convention campus. Every day is different!