Visit Knoxville to Launch K-Town Connect Ambassador Program for Downtown

It’s been rumored to be in the offing for months, and it appears the K-Town Connect Program will launch tomorrow by Visit Knoxville, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and the Downtown Knoxville Alliance. Block by Block, a national company providing “safety, cleaning and hospitality services for Central Business Improvement Districts, will manage the program whose goal according to the Visit Knoxville press release is “to significantly improve the experience of the sidewalks and streets for visitors and locals in the downtown area . . .” The map included here indicates the coverage area to be covered.

In her statement, Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville stressed the importance of “visitors and locals alike to experience a friendly, clean, and safe downtown, and we expect this program to amplify those efforts.” Mayor Kincannon echoed the sentiments and added “This is another important step in helping to keep our downtown welcoming, safe, and accessible for residents and visitors.”

The program, which I’ve heard mentioned for months has been presented as a potential aide in battling everything that has concerned downtown residents and visitors, from loud vehicles and graffiti, to aggressive panhandling and people lying on the sidewalks, as well as helping deal with active psychotic episodes. It has been suggested that they might personal clean or cover graffiti and remove trash from the ground.

The local version of the national program is branded “K-Town Connect” and, according to the press release, their specific duties will include:

  • Hospitality and Information – Ambassadors will actively greet pedestrians and provide general assistance, maps and/or directions, information on historic sites, shops, restaurants, public transportation, other places of interest and general information that may be helpful and welcoming. Ambassadors will provide help and support to the general public to address a wide range of situations and needs, such as: assistance with the use of parking meter stations, repairing a flat tire, opening a door, escorting employees to parking garages, and by offsetting any potentially negative experience with a positive interaction.
  • Visible Presence – Ambassadors will circulate throughout the district daily to create a highly visible, accessible, outgoing, and inviting presence, with an attitude of friendly professionalism, superior customer service, and hospitality. Ambassadors will be on foot and will be deployed in a manner that ensures resources are placed strategically to address critical issues or needs at key times of day, days of the week, and as needed. All Ambassadors are trained in ‘situational protocol’ to appropriately handle situations in a firm, yet courteous, manner.
  • Improved Instances of Quality of Life Issues – Ambassadors will discourage aggressive solicitation and other prohibited behaviors, report crimes to the proper authority, and provide information and support to Visit Knoxville as it relates to improper behavior in the district. Ambassadors will respectfully educate the public on ordinance violations and shall promptly call 911 to notify the Knoxville Police Department of any crimes in progress, and conditions or individuals that may pose immediate risk or danger to persons or property.
  • Property and Business Contacts – Ambassadors will interact directly with property and business owners, managers, and security personnel to build a network, provide and receive information relevant to downtown safety and hospitality, and to raise public awareness of the program.

Michele Hummel, Executive Director of the Downtown Knoxville Alliance emphasized both their welcoming presence and “enhanced security.” Mayor Jacobs also emphasized safety and included business owners in the list of beneficiaries of the new presence.

Area Covered by K-Town Connect

As we’ve been hearing, the press release did suggest the ambassadors will be involved in “social service outreach and referrals for people who appear to be in need of mental or physical health services, substance misuse treatment, emergency shelter, and/or housing to provide resource information, make referrals to social service agencies, or connect social service case managers and agency personnel staffs to people on the streets.”

It goes further, “Additional responsibilities include manual removal of litter and debris . . .  removal of handbills, stickers, posters . . . and small graffiti removal . . .”

The map may look small, but the area is fairly large, including the area from I-40 to near the river and from the coliseum into the edge of Ft. Sanders. The number of ambassadors that will be deployed wasn’t included in the release, nor were the specific hours of coverage. The program appears to hold great promise and, presumably is working elsewhere. It is currently in use in Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga. Look for updates as the extent of the program and its effectiveness become more clear.

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