Tim Pearson recently was named “Ambassador of the Year” among his 80 or so colleagues who patrol 120 blocks for the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (DID), the nonprofit business funded mostly by downtown property owners.
The four-year-old nonprofit works to make downtown a better, cleaner, safer place for businesses, employees and residents.
Last year, DID ambassadors, who are paid $13.42 per hour plus benefits after a year on the job, assisted nearly 120,000 pedestrians, collected more than 1 million pounds of trash and recyclables, tended to thousands of trees and plants and shoveled a lot of walks. Crime is trending down, thanks partly to their proactive work with citizens and the police.
Q: What do you do during a typical day downtown?
A: We meet and greet people. We consider ourselves the eyes and ears of downtown. We will carry bags to cars for shoppers, help them find their car or the bus stop or a taxi … or a restaurant.
We are visible in our bright caps and coats. And we like to think that we also deter crime. We work with the police. We contact our dispatcher if we see anything suspicious. And they contact the police and take it from there. In the summer, there are more people on the streets downtown, in the better weather and during the baseball season. We also use the pressure washers to keep sidewalks clean and we’re maintaining flowers and shrubs. I like working with people more than plants, but it’s all part of the job of keeping up downtown.
Q: Did the award come as a surprise?
A: A welcome surprise. I intend to do a good job every day. It’s easy to do the job if you like your job, and this fits me to a T. I like to communicate. I grew up in this town. I care about downtown. And I like people. That’s important to be successful in this job.
Q: You work much of the time on Nicollet Mall and Hennepin Avenue, right? What do you enjoy most about being on the street?
A: Meeting and interacting with people. All the ambassadors do. We focus on different zones every day but we always focus on helping people. I do like to work the Nicollet Mall and Hennepin Avenue. That’s where the people are … they’re busy. You’ve got a younger crowd on the Nicollet Mall. And we have a more fun-loving crowd on Hennepin, sometimes a little too fun-loving. If we have a situation that involves alcohol, we call it into our dispatcher and they monitor the situation. We don’t want anybody to hurt themselves.
Q: Do you have a favorite on-the-job story?
A: Last summer, there was a young man who was lost from his family. I’d say he was 13 or 14 years old and he became separated from his parents. I found him in a parking lot near 7th Street and 5th Avenue. He had Down syndrome. We just sat down and chatted until his parents were notified and came by to get him. We turned a bad situation into a good one. We got to know each other and I showed him my radio microphone. He enjoyed that, I think. His parents were very happy to see him.
Every day, people come up to me or other ambassadors to say: ‘Thanks for the job you’re doing.’ We take that and run with it.
Q: What’s a tough situation you’ve had?
A: Last fall, two young men were fighting on the mall and one gentleman got stabbed in the arm. We witnessed it. We called our dispatcher, who alerted the police. The victim had a cut arm. The perpetrator was filmed on camera. He was arrested a couple days later. We also like to think we prevent crime by our presence and visibility.
Q: How many miles do you put in most days?
A: It probably averages six or eight miles a day and depends what I’m doing. I like to stretch my legs and meet people.
Q: How do you see yourself making downtown a better place to do business?
A: We keep the area cleaner, greener and safer. We hold doors open for the public. We think more people will come downtown. We have regular contact with store owners, managers and employees. We ask them what they need around their property. We let them know we’re here to serve them and their customers. They like that. And we get a lot of comments from customers and e-mails from out-of-town people who say: ‘Nice program. We wish we had it in our town.’
Q: What do you recommend we all do to make downtown a better place?
A: Communication is the place to start. Take off the headphones, notice things and greet people. I talk to the young people about that. We build our downtown community by talking to each other and looking out for one another. Not by littering and ignoring each other.