Although there is room to improve the program, the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (BNRC) is optimistic that its downtown ambassador program will return in 2019.
The BNRC in partnership with the City of Brandon, the Brandon Bear Clan, the Brandon Police Service, the Brandon Downtown Development Corporation and 7th Street Health Access opened a pilot program last summer that had individuals patrol downtown Brandon providing information, guidance services and emergency aid to downtown residents and visitors. The City of Brandon provided a budget of $30,000 for the project.
Carly Gasparini, the BNRC’s executive director, said 2019 city budget deliberations included funding for a second year of operation, but the city’s financial plan for the year has not yet been confirmed. Nevertheless, she believes the program was a valuable asset for both members of the public visiting the area and those living and working downtown.
During city council’s regular meeting on Jan. 21, Gasparini and community development coordinator Heather Reimer made a presentation outlining the benefits and shortfalls experienced during the program’s inaugural year.
“Our main message was that the program wasn’t perfect, but we learned so much and felt it was so valuable, it was worth doing again,” Gasparini told the Westman Journal on Tuesday. “There are things we’d do differently and things we’d do the same. We were also offered the opportunity to highlight some of the needs downtown, such as public washrooms and a drinking water refill station.”
Gasparini noted that the city has taken steps to construct public washrooms in Princess Park already. Other issues discussed included the safe clean up of hypodermic needles found in the city’s core. Last year, both the downtown ambassadors and the Brandon Bear Clan patrol were equipped to ensure needles were properly disposed of.
This ties into a list of concerns forwarded to the city, including the use of methamphetamine and other illicit substances in public areas; supports needed to develop a feeling of community downtown; parking issues; maintenance requirements; and other issues.
“All of this was part of creating a safer space downtown,” Gasparini said. “We have to deal with issues that give people the perception that downtown is not a place to go… We learned so much through the first year and would do some things different in the second year, but it’s so worth doing again.”
Besides improving the image of the area, the ambassadors were a key piece of the marketing strategy for downtown businesses. The program’s representatives provided “friendly faces” to approach with any questions from visitors or customers, making them feel safer and more willing to come downtown for business or entertainment, Gasparini said.
Other attractions have also been discussed.
“Theoretically, we’ve mentioned things like a lemonade stand, which is a super-simple thing to do that encourages people to stay and discover more about downtown,” she said. “People need to discover the benefits of downtown and (the ambassadors) are there to help with that process.”
The program also allowed the BNRC to collect data through surveys and observation that was generally unavailable to them in the past. These activities allow the BNRC to further engage the community while developing safety and social planning initiatives.