St. Paul visitors who want directions or a restaurant recommendation may be able to find help, starting next year, from volunteers posted downtown during special events.
Backers want St. Paul's first downtown "street team" to hit the skyways and streets during the 2017 St. Patrick's Day parade. Organizers said the call for volunteers will go out in the next few weeks.
The street team is a response to concerns about increased crime and the perception that downtown did not seem welcoming during events, City Council Member Rebecca Noecker said. In addition to greeting visitors, the team will offer eyes on the street and be in close contact with police, organizers said.
The effort was inspired by Minneapolis' paid ambassadors, who pick up trash, offer directions and suggest things to do.
"We hear a lot about, you cross the river from downtown Minneapolis and suddenly get to downtown St. Paul and it just looks trashier. And that's not a welcoming impression or the kind of impression we want for our city," Noecker said.
St. Paul doesn't have the money to replicate the Minneapolis program, so the CapitolRiver Council is working on what Noecker called a "scrappy" approach. That district council, which represents downtown, will manage the street team effort and sustain it with local volunteers and donations.
To attract and keep volunteers, organizers said the street team will focus less on trash cleanup.
"It's different to clean up a mess when you're being paid," said Adam Johnson with Visit Saint Paul, the convention and visitors bureau.
Visit St. Paul will seek volunteers through social media and will likely chip in some money, Johnson said.
John Regal, with Securian Financial Group, said he expects downtown businesses will also help pay for the initiative. He would like to see the street team working even sooner than St. Patrick's Day.
The CapitolRiver Council estimated it would cost $92,500 to test out the street team next year. That would pay for a volunteer coordinator, clothing and gear for street team members, a walkie talkie system and gifts or a banquet to thank volunteers.
Volunteers would be on hand for about 10 events a year, said Chris Thomforde, chair-elect of the district council.
Thomforde said he and many of his neighbors are retirees who recently moved to the area and want to make sure it feels safe and looks good.
"When someone lives in a neighborhood for a while, they begin to take pride in it," Thomforde said.
With new restaurants, bars and the ballpark, downtown St. Paul is attracting more residents and visitors, Johnson said.
"It's the next step in keeping this momentum going," he said of the street teams. "It's really going to be an opportunity for St. Paulites to welcome people to their city."