July 7, 2012 in Washington Voices

Downtown ambassador honored

Head of Spokane program earns national recognition
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Killstrom
(Full-size photo)

Say you’re a first-time visitor to downtown Spokane, and you’d like to know where the closest sushi place is. Or maybe you need help to figure out your parking options. Or perhaps you’re a downtown business owner and you’ve got a marmot trapped in your store.

Who are you going to call?

Larry Killstrom, of course.

Since 1995, Killstrom, a former Marine and former Oregon State Police officer, has been making visitors feel welcome and business owners feel secure through his job as Downtown Security Ambassador.

When the Downtown Spokane Partnership launched the Security Ambassadors program, Killstrom was one of the first hires. “Two weeks into it, they asked me to take over the program,” he said.

Killstrom, 63, was recently named the national Certified Tourism Ambassador of the Year. And he’s a bit embarrassed by the honor.

“It’s a team effort,” he insisted. “There’s six of us that go out on the street.”

In their beige shirts and black slacks, those six ambassadors cover a lot of ground – 80 square blocks, to be exact. Killstrom often walks 20 miles a day.

“Our job is to enhance a person’s experience downtown,” he said. “If that means jump-starting a car or shoveling snow, we do it.”

In 2008, Visit Spokane launched its Regional Tourism Ambassadors program. The program gives participants the opportunity to increase their knowledge of the local region, enhance their customer service skills, and heighten their awareness of information resources. Killstrom felt it was vital for his team to be part of that training.

Now, he can chat comfortably about the history of the Davenport Hotel as well as point visitors to the best views of the Spokane River.

In addition to making guests feel welcome, the Security Ambassadors serve as a resource for downtown businesses – hence the marmot removal.

“A business called and said there was a marmot inside their store, so I got it in a box and released it near the river,” he said.

The ambassadors carry handcuffs and Mace, but they aren’t law enforcement officers. “What I’ve always liked about this job is the crime-prevention aspect,” Killstrom said. “We’re cost-effective because we don’t put the whole criminal justice system in action.”

Their presence alone is often a crime deterrent. If Killstrom gets a call regarding teens loitering around a business, he and a partner stroll over and talk to the kids. He’ll suggest they move along, and they usually do.

He’s delighted by the revitalization he’s witnessed in the downtown core. “Downtown was very different 16 years ago – much more public inebriation and aggressive panhandling.”

Though he and his crew often come in contact with some of the rougher aspects of society, Killstrom stresses that every individual should be treated with respect. He said the hardest part of his job “is when you can tell the system isn’t quite working properly for people with mental health or alcohol issues.”

The best part of his job? That’s easy. He likes helping people. Whether it’s helping folks find a lost wallet, a lost kid or helping them remember where they parked their cars.

Killstrom also supervises the Clean Team – the crew responsible for sweeping the sidewalks, emptying the trash from the new black garbage cans, and removing graffiti. They also plant and maintain the flowerpots that dot the downtown sidewalks.

While honored to receive the national Certified Tourism Ambassador of the Year award, Killstrom said, “The truth is I get thanked every day. I’ve had people come out of their buildings and introduce themselves and say, ‘I just want to thank you.’ Not many jobs get that kind of positive response.

“This job’s been good to me.”

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