When the word “alliance” is part of your name, you’d better know how to build strategic partnerships.
Now in its 10th year, that’s certainly a part of the nonprofit Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s mission.
“We actually have two additional focuses in terms of our mission,” says Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. “One is to improve the pedestrian experience that people have in downtown Cleveland, whether you are a resident, employee, visitor or business-person.
“The second is to build on that platform to attract additional investment in downtown Cleveland. Whether it is through our marketing efforts, or through our business development center, our goal is to fill the existing buildings and then work strategically for future buildings in downtown.”
It’s a twofold strategy that keeps its feet on the street, yet pushes our city’s skyline ever upward toward the stars. And it’s working.
Witness all the construction in downtown over the past five years. Look at the increased numbers of people on the streets on weeknights and especially on weekends. People working. People playing. People happy.
“We had a predecessor called the Downtown Cleveland Partnership, which went through a restructuring back in 2005,” says Marinucci. “The current alliance was created in 2006.”
“One of the keys to that restructuring was the improvement of a business development district, which is a mechanism to allow property owners to assess themselves for an enhanced portfolio of services for the district.”
The most readily apparent evidence of those enhanced services is the alliance’s signature program called its Clean and Safe Ambassadors. Staffed by people who daily patrol downtown streets to keep them safer, maintain sidewalks, remove graffiti or power wash public areas, the program has been extremely successful.
“When we structured the alliance, one of the first things we asked property owners to do was to consider re-investing in downtown through this self-assessment mechanism,” says Marinucci. “We just did our third authorization for another five years, which began in January of this year. To give you some sense of scale for the program, property owners in downtown are going to contribute about $4.1 million this year, which will happen once again over the next four years. So the total commitment from property owners in downtown is over $20 million over that time. And about 70 cents of every dollar that we raise is used for our Clean and Safe program that you see out in the streets.”
If you have been to downtown at all in the last few years, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s ambassadors are pretty hard to miss. Whether cleaning up streets or walking or gliding by on bicycles, their yellow vests and shirts are immediately recognizable. They offer a sense of security, especially for people who are working or playing downtown late at night.
“We’re not police officers, but we do act as the eyes and ears for the police,” says Marinucci. “We do have a safety escort service. If you’re in a restaurant and want to be walked to your car, one of our ambassadors will meet you and walk you to your car, wherever it’s parked.”
But that’s just the start. The alliance also offers a full range of what Marinucci describes as “concierge” services.
“If your car breaks down, we’ll call AAA,” says Marinucci. “If you have a flat tire, we’ll help you change it. If you lock your keys in your car, we have a mechanism that can open the door for you.”
In 2015 alone, Downtown Cleveland Alliance ambassadors assisted more than 57,000 pedestrians and more than 2,300 motorists. They’ve patrolled more than 9,000 miles on bicycles and removed more than 619,000 pounds of trash from the sidewalks and plazas of downtown. They have patrolled for and quickly removed 7,700 instances of graffiti in downtown and provided nearly 3,600 safety escorts. They also met regularly with hundreds of business owners and retail managers in downtown.
“It’s all designed to make people feel more comfortable. We feel very strongly that, if people feel comfortable, they will come back more often — and they will tell their friends about their experience,” adds Marinucci.
Those visitors to downtown must be talking it up quite a bit. In 2014, Cleveland hosted 16.9 million visitors, which resulted in $7.4 billion of economic impact in the form of direct and indirect sales.
Now, with the 2016 Republican National Convention coming to town July 18, the alliance’s staff will be stretched to the breaking point. However, a strategic partnership with another local non-profit organization should ensure that the convention’s visitors, journalists and attendees still receive those valuable extra hospitality services that will make them feel right at home.
“Obviously we will be adding staff. However, we still won’t have the capacity to handle an event like the convention alone,” says Marinucci, who also serves on the host committee for the 2016 convention. “The alliance is just part of the puzzle. Everyone has to work together.”
Enter Destination Cleveland, the convention and visitor’s bureau for the city. Destination Cleveland is building a volunteer force of some 8,000 volunteers who will work at the airport, hotels and strategic locations downtown or places near Quicken Loans Arena to give people directions or respond to needs that may arise. All this in addition to the expanded staff from the Downtown Cleveland Alliance that will be patrolling our city’s streets, and cleaning and maintaining our sidewalks and public areas.
“The convention is obviously a community effort, and there will be a lot of us involved,” says Marinucci. “Together, we will bring a lot of resources to bear to make sure all the visitors to our city are comfortable and well taken care of.”