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Downtown Ambassadors Roll Out Welcome Mat  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

March 4, 2010 -- On a recent visit to Downtown Santa Monica, a Massachusetts family was in a most unfortunate situation after enjoying another day in the beachfront city. They had no idea where they had parked their car.

For several hours, the family searched for the vehicle. Then, they ran into a Downtown ambassador, who was determined to find that car.

“It was some of the most courteous treatment I have ever experienced,” Joshua Pendrick wrote in an e-mail to the Bayside District Corporation.

Two ambassadors assisted the Pendricks in finding their vehicle, and soon the family was back in their car, receiving just the sort of treatment the Ambassador Program was created to deliver.

“I want to thank these guys for their hospitality,” Pendrick wrote. “The City of Santa Monica is lucky to have them.”

Steve Brookes, who manages the eight-month-old Ambassador Program, said he gets at least two e-mails or phone calls per week similar to the one Pendrick wrote.

Whether it's helping a lost tourist find the right place to go, taking a little bit of the load off someone carrying too many bags or offering some shelter for a walker lacking an umbrella, Santa Monica’s 25 ambassadors are on a mission to make the visit Downtown a pleasant experience.

“When somebody actually takes the time to go home and sit in front of a computer and write an e-mail, it’s just tremendous accolades to these guys who are trying to go above and beyond,” Brookes said.

“Going above and beyond” is the goal of the ambassadors, who were selected among more than 900 applicants, and they are frequently improving their skills through role playing and by studying up on Santa Monica's layout and laws.

Since the program was launched last June, ambassadors have had 96,033 interactions with visitors and referred 29,651 of them to a business in the district. They've also escorted 479 visitors to their vehicles or destinations.

In addition ambassadors have answered 61,052 requests for restroom use and referred 7,367 requests for maintenance.

And they are also there to offer friendly advice on the laws of the land, especially the smoking ban. But even “that's not allowed here” is said with a please and a smile.


In the first eight months of the program, ambassadors informed 9,377 smokers that lighting up on the Promenade was illegal and stopped 6,628 people from illegally biking, rollerblading and skateboarding on the popular walk street.

One of those ambassadors is Timothy Thomas. Desperate to leave the rough world of downtown Los Angeles security, Thomas jumped at the chance to apply for the job when he read an advertisement on the Internet.

Coming to the interview to be an ambassador, Thomas wore his best smile and favorite shirt. And to his surprise, the interviewer had the same shirt on.

With an easy ice-breaker to start the conversation, Thomas was well on his way to a new career. By the second interview, the regional manager was asking Thomas if he was ready for the change, if he was willing to put away the security guard hammer.

“I told him, ‘Put it away? I’m ready to throw it out the window, sink it down the ship into the Arctic Ocean,’” Thomas said.

Downtown Santa Monica – with its year-round sunshine and visitors from all over the world – is where Thomas said he is meant to be.

“You meet a few grumpy people, and sometimes you’re able to change their day,” Thomas said. “And then you meet people who have a natural joy about life. And that just increases your joy about the day. It’s perpetual happiness.”

The Ambassador program is funded through Bayside’s new assessment district. Bayside has a three-year contract with Louisville-based Block by Block at $1.2 million per year to run the program.

Although Bayside officials like what they're getting, the program is still being tweaked to make it better.

“It’s constantly being scrutinized,” said Andrew Thomas, Director of Operations for the Bayside District. “When people see the program on the street, they don't think Bayside, they think Santa Monica.

“We're a vital part of Santa Monica. So it’s important to us that the program reflects our standards and the views of the property owners and users here in Downtown.”


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