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MSD Adds New Position As Hospitality Focus Grows

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 19, 2019
Planter baskets found in downtown Wilmington's Municipal Services District are part of the district's programs and services. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
Wilmington Downtown Inc. has a new position open to help connect businesses and property owners with Municipal Service District programs, according to an announcement.

WDI is seeking to hire a customer service coordinator, a newly created part-time position to serve merchants, local residents and visitors within the MSD.

The position will be charged with communicating with that group, monitoring and reporting cleanliness and safety services issues, distributing information and managing special projects, according to WDI.

The new position is part of a more hospitality-focused role for MSD employees.

As part of the budget process, the MSD advisory committee began discussing the goal of adding additional hospitality efforts to what the district’s ambassadors do, said Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of WDI.

“Because of the set-up, we really have them focused on security issues as well as cleaning issues. So the MSD advisory committee thought that the program would benefit more by having someone emphasizing hospitality issues. They also did not want to take away from the coverage area of the regular ambassadors," Wolverton said.

The MSD ambassadors make up seven full-time equivalent positions, he said.

“So this part-time position is being created to bridge the gap further," Wolverton said, "to be able to spend more time with business and property owners making sure they are aware of things that are going on in a more detailed way than what the ambassadors normally do."

The MSD also has some special projects lined up, including a project with the city to improve its alleyways, for example. The new position would also help facilitate some of those efforts, Wolverton said.

“Having someone that can also work on some of these smaller special projects like that will be another role for this job,” Wolverton said.

The position is currently being advertised, Wolverton said, adding, “We have a number of applications already.”

The emphasis on hospitality is also being extended to its current lineup of MSD ambassadors, who are slated to go through additional training to become more “hospitality-centric” while on patrols, "so they can interact more with people downtown," Wolverton said.

“We're working with all of them to embrace a more hospitality orientation to their day-to-day activities,” Wolverton said.

Wolverton said it was the “next evolution” of the ambassador program, which works on a daily basis to perform a variety of duties within the MSD, including security, concierge assistance, graffiti and sticker removal, and sidewalk pressure washing.

Just last fiscal year, ambassadors spent more than 14,600 hours conducting those activities, including removing nearly 15,000 pounds of trash, making 43 calls for emergency services, conducting 85 escorts and spending 142 hours pressure washing.

The vast majority of the ambassadors’ statistics for the last fiscal year were up from previous years, Wolverton said.

The MSD and its ambassador program began in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Since that time, the district's budget has grown.

To pay for the MSD services, property owners within the MSD pay an additional tax of 7 cents on $100 of property valuation, according to the city of Wilmington.

For its 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, the MSD has $407,750, an increase from the previous year, which was just over $362,000. The budget last fiscal year, however, included $55,000 of unspent funds taking the total of the FY 2018-19 budget to just over $417,000. The 2017-18 fiscal year budget was $377,000.

Wolverton attributed the budget increase to the continued growth and economic development downtown.

“The most dramatic increase is related to infill projects when vacant land is developed for a new building,” Wolverton said in an email. “Embassy Suites, Sawmill Point Apartments and Hampton Inn are large-scale examples. Values usually increase after renovations, such as the building that went from Charlie Brownz (with the upper 2 floors vacant) to Untappd.”

The budget is separate from what WDI received budgeted from the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County this fiscal year.

In another change to the MSD budget this year, about $10,000 has been carved out for weather-related emergencies, in light of the events of past years, including Hurricane Florence’s impact on downtown Wilmington last year, he said.

Among its ongoing services, the MSD is continuing the use of its shopping and entertainment guide, which “has proven to be a really useful tool,” Wolverton said.

The hanging flower basket program will also continue next spring, he said. Currently, there are about 162 of those hanging baskets for this season.

And the MSD is still awarding funds from its facade grant program, which helps spur facade building renovations, he said.

For example, the program is currently helping fund improvements to the facade at 31 and 33 South Front St., the site of The Husk and Yosake Downtown Sushi Lounge, Wolverton said.

The program works on a matching basis, with a maximum allotment of $2,500 for improvements. Since the South Front Street location is on a corner lot, with two street-facing facades, the grant award for that particular project was $5,000, Wolverton said.

The current budget can meet the needs within the district, Wolverton said, but more demand is coming.

“We have almost 600 apartments that are under construction right now. We know there are more hotels that are coming with the Aloft under construction right now . . . So as we add more residences and as we add more hotel rooms, then that becomes additional demands on the district,” Wolverton said.
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