When one hears “Downtown Visions” they may think of the friendly folks in yellow that are safety ambassadors downtown, or the cleaning ambassadors keeping everything tidy in the city, but what they may not realize is that is only the tip of the ice-burg when it comes to all of the services Downtown Visions provides.
Downtown Visions Executive Director, Martin Hageman explains how it all began and how thrilled he is to be able to tell his grandchildren that he was a part of the helping hands that made Wilmington, DE what it is today.
Q. How did Downtown Visions begin?
A. “In 1993 a group of individuals got together from the corporations because they saw the City was struggling because retail had dramatically changed. People went to the mall or shopping plazas to get what they needed. Historically, when Downtown Wilmington was booming it was an epicenter of retail shops-now it needed a new position. I saw the restaurants and the arts as strengths and destinations for the city. Places like A.R. Morris, Govatos and Als were the only remaining retailers on Market Street. I knew if we could make it a welcoming, clean, safe place it would turn a corner. Back then there were around 12 Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) in the U.S. and Wilmington, DE was one of them. Now there are around 2,000. I left the police department in November of 1994 and needed to train the first set of Safety Ambassadors by Christmas. It was a tough, but I did it and our team of ambassadors immediately made an impact. From then on, crime decreased within the BID. That was the first step. So much more came following.”
Q. What is your proudest moment here at Downtown Visions?
A. “There have been many, from training and hiring the first set of Safety Ambassadors to installing our video surveillance cameras which was a model for Homeland Security in 2001. The video surveillance program grew from there. Where the Downtown Farmers Market is today has also been incredibly meaningful. In the height of the season between 10 and 2 PM on a Wednesday in the summer 5,000 people visit the Market. Watching the Main Street Program help entrepreneurs and small businesses set roots downtown has also been rewarding.”
Q. What do you believe has been Downtown Visions greatest impact on the local community?
A. “Providing a safe and clean environment downtown that has made it easier for developers, restaurants and retailers to come downtown, being a catalyst for economic development.”
Q. What services do you think individuals are not aware of that Downtown Visions offers?
A.”Many people don’t realize we offer a Safety Escort Service that is completely free. We also have Facade Improvement Programs and grants for new businesses. Sometimes it is the little things that make a big difference. Our Cleaning Ambassadors are removing graffiti, posters, stickers, leaves and constantly emptying the trash bins downtown.”
Q. How has the BID improved over the years?
A.”It has dramatically changed through the developers that have been willing to invest Downtown. Groups like The Buccini/Pollin Group that have created residential buildings. With a critical mass of residents, we are now a 24 hour downtown and a true community. The area today is vibrant with arts, residential, entertainment and retail.”
Q. What differences do you see in the Business Improvement District in 2020?
A.”We will continue to see a community of people that live, work and play downtown.”
Q. What is your favorite Downtown Visions annual event?
A. “The Farmer’s Market in Rodney Square. It brings associates out of their buildings and gives them a chance to not only enjoy the market, but also see all of the positive things happening downtown.”