Despite offering shelter under his large orange and white umbrella, Aziz Benmouiss wasn’t always warmly received by pedestrians in a rainy Downtown Crossing yesterday afternoon.
One of 30 uniformed “ambassadors” dispatched in Boston’s first designated business improvement district yesterday, Aziz picks up trash, directs tourists and helps make 34 blocks of Boston’s downtrodden central shopping district feel safer.
“Our services are free, but people are like frozen,” Benmouiss said before scooping a crumpled napkin from the street. “You have to introduce the company and what we offer.”
Downtown property owners agreed to annual fees that help pay for the services of Block by Block, which manages 35 business districts nationwide. New York’s Times Square and Bryant Park credit their turnarounds to similar programs.
“If we can be visible out there and provide these hospitality services, people will come,” said Block by Block’s Steve Brooks, who has helped turnaround districts in Baltimore,?Md., and Santa Monica, Calif.
Detractors, however, say Downtown Crossing can’t be revitalized until the giant hole at the former Filene’s Basement building is redeveloped.
“That’s the glaring issue,” Brooks said. “That’s a very visible thing. In order to attract more people to Downtown Crossing and find people who are willing to build that area, we need to work on getting it clean.”
Benmouiss started by finally finding a pedestrian to take his umbrella’s shelter.
“That helps, it just makes things more pleasant,” Santina Carter said. “I appreciate being kept out from the rain.”
While “ambassadors” serve as eyes and ears for police, the owner of Downtown Crossing’s Army & Navy Store is skeptical they can help thwart shoplifting and loitering teenagers.
“They’re not going to do anything when I got a shoplifter coming in the store and am waiting for police,” said Jerry Blocher, who later joked that the “ambassadors” should be armed.
“Give each of them a gun and post them 50 feet apart down the street.”