Baltimore's Downtown Management District officially kicks off on Monday and Ike Lycett is hoping that tourists and suburbanites will feel more comfortable in the safer and cleaner shopping area.
The Downtown Partnership, a consortium of downtown property owners, has hired 35 uniformed public safety guides and a 28-member cleanup crew to work in the new district.
Mr. Lycett, president of Downs Engravers and Stationers, said he has seen some of his company's business "gravitate to our suburban store" in Towson in recent years. He's optimistic that the increased security and cleanliness will lure new shoppers and to the downtown area.
The guides and cleanup crews are being financed through a special surcharge to downtown property owners. The guides have been trained by the city's Police Department to look out for crimes. They have also been taught to give directions and spout a bit of Baltimore history.
Members of the cleanup crew have been dubbed "Clean Sweep Ambassadors."
"We believe that the addition of 63 new clean and safe personnel downtown are going to help make people feel more comfortable downtown and make downtown a much more inviting place for the public," said Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership.
But the cleanup crews and new guides are only part of a bigger campaign to draw businesses, shoppers and tourists downtown, Schwartz said.
She said her organization is planning public service advertising to make downtown a more inviting place and a small loan program to help businesses expand.
While much of downtown has been rehabilitated in the last 20 years, with new businesses and art galleries moving in, downtown has gained a reputation as being unsafe.
Downtown business owners are unhappy with the area's reputation.
"Outside of somebody hitting you up for a quarter, it's probably safer than anywhere else in the city," said Michael Weiss, owner of The Dark Room, a photo finishing business with seven downtown locations.
"There used to be a lot more people coming downtown to work every day. Now there are a lot less people coming to work but a lot more tourists, but they're lost. The guides will be helpful with directions," he said.
Frank Russo, Downtown Partnership's director of public safety, said downtown "is probably the safest place in Baltimore" because "it has the most concentrated presence of police personnel in the city."
Mr. Russo served with the city Police Department for 25 years and rose to the rank of major. He commanded the Central District, which includes much of downtown, before taking the job with the Downtown Partnership.
On Monday, a ceremony will be held at the Morris Mechanic Theatre to officially kick off the Downtown Management District. But the public safety guides have been training on downtown streets for about three weeks. Mr. Russo said Police Department officials have told him that the guides' presence on the streets has already resulted in a "noticeable reduction of crime" such as thefts from cars.
The presence of the public safety guides "eliminates the opportunity to commit a crime," said Mr. Russo.