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.
A team of Downtown Ambassadors works seven days a week to keep the city clean and safe and provide assistance for visitors and residents alike.
“We’re like an on-street concierge,” says Rebecca Krenz, operations manager for the Downtown Ambassadors program, which has a paid staff of 15-20 people depending on the season. “We walk people to their cars, give them directions or information, carry umbrellas in the rain for them, jump cars, and change tires.”
The Downtown Ambassadors are also around during the colder months when Grand Rapids turns into a winter wonderland, bringing people downtown for ice skating, holiday lights, and other cold-weather festivities.
“We’ve definitely shoveled people out of snow and pushed their car, even scraped their window while they sat inside and warmed up,” Krenz says. “Whatever we can do to make somebody’s experience in Grand Rapids better, we do it.”
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 campus.
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.
Anywhere from two to 12 ambassadors are on duty each day in their signature teal shirts, armed with radio earpieces, smartphones, flashlights, first aid supplies, and information about what’s going on in the city each week.
They are ready to help anyone who might need it, while also working to keep the city clean, beautiful, and safe.
According to data from DGRI, the ambassador team assisted people more than 195,000 times in 2018.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
According to data from DGRI, the ambassador team assisted people more than 195,000 times in 2018. They also planted and maintained 21,000 plants and flowers, pulled more than 37,800 weeds, removed 544,200 pounds of trash and cleared snow from 9,850 parking meters, fire hydrants, and crosswalks.
They’ve collected and recycled nearly 412,000 cigarette butts, bringing their total to more than one million since the program launched in 2013.
The ambassadors put out the furniture at Calder Plaza each day, creating a gathering space for the community at any time, especially those grabbing lunch from a food truck. They offer dog treats to the canine visitors they encounter on the sidewalk or at the new downtown dog park while watering the plants. They also help beautify the space for Movies on Monroe, an outdoor movie series along the Grand River.
“We kind of do it all,” Krenz says.
Krenz said they visit all the downtown businesses to let the owners and employees know the ambassadors are there to help, ready to recommend their services.
The ambassadors also make a point to interact with those who spend their time downtown but may be experiencing homelessness, ensuring they are connected to services that can help them.
“If we can build those relationships, maybe we can help move them to a place where they’re safer, where they have access to food and a place to sleep,” Krenz says. “We always have a friendly face, and we’re willing to help with anything, I think our uniform presence provides that safety aspect, even though we’re not police or security.”
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.
The Downtown Ambassadors can help direct visitors on where to get a quick lunch or take a walk in between their meetings at the downtown convention campus.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
But one of their main goals 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,” Krenz said. “You just never really know.”
Wondering how Grand Rapids and the ambassadors might help with your meeting or event? Learn more about what Grand Rapids has to offer event planners and contact the Convention Services Team.