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Historian Jason Watson stands on the Downtown Mall
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Date published: 9/9/2012
THE DAILY PROGRESS
CHARLOTTESVILLE--The city of Charlottesville will hire four people to serve as "Downtown Mall ambassadors" in reaction to persistent complaints from business owners about disorderly activity on the mall.
At an estimated cost of $80,000, the city will hire four seasonal employees to work 40 hours per week starting this fall as part of a pilot program that would be re-evaluated next summer.
The City Council approved the program by a unanimous vote at a recent meeting.
The proposal is described as the first of several that the city plans to bring to the City Council to address "behavior issues" downtown, which many have linked to the homeless population that frequents the mall.
"Although it is being presented in the context of assisting with the curbing of rude behavior, an ambassadors program offers many additional benefits," reads the City Hall memo prepared for councilors. "In many cities, the ambassadors assist tourists, provide extra maintenance, build relationships with business owners, help direct the homeless to appropriate service providers, and more. This is what we hope to accomplish with our pilot program."
Business owners have warned councilors that drunkenness, fighting, loud cursing and aggressive panhandling have led to a sense of unease for families and others patronizing the mall.
Councilors said they saw the new program as more than a direct solution to those problems.
"It's not really so much just a response to trying to crack down on this behavior; it's just a way to make everyone feel more welcome on the mall," said Councilor Kristin Szakos.
"I think I'm willing to give it a try," said Councilor Dave Norris. "I don't want us to think that this is going to solve the problems downtown I think there's a lot of work to do."
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she hopes the program can be accompanied by better maintenance of the mall and better aesthetics. "It's not just behaviors," Galvin said. "It's adding beauty."
Under the proposed program, the ambassadors would be active through the fall, stay on call for special events in the winter and return to work in the spring.
The ambassador program comes after the Charlottesville Police Department was denied a request for new funding to hire additional police officers to improve public safety on the mall.