Little Rock city officials are preparing to allocate as much as $500,000 for a downtown nonprofit's ambassador program, a sum that would exceed the city's total 2022 budget allocation for the nonprofit.
At a meeting on Tuesday, members of the Little Rock city board adopted a measure that directs city officials to include $500,000 in the 2023 budget for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership's ambassador program. The following day, members of the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission approved spending up to $250,000 on a similar program.
Individuals employed as ambassadors are meant to serve as liaisons to visitors and the police while doing beautification work.
The city board's resolution approved Tuesday states that the program provides individuals seven days a week "to walk people to their cars, give directions, work closely with the Little Rock Police Department, and to perform certain tasks such [as] graffiti and trash removal." It calls the program "essential to help revitalize the Downtown Area."
At-large City Director Joan Adcock sponsored the resolution. City directors voted to add the measure to the agenda and then gave approval in a 9-1 vote. City Director Ken Richardson of Ward 2 voted no.
After the vote, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said he supported the ambassador program but noted that a resolution for $250,000 was set to go before the local tourism authority on Wednesday.
Additionally, Scott said that he and City Manager Bruce Moore had not yet finalized the 2023 budget proposal. "There may be a mixture of resources on how we get to $500,000," Scott said. City board members must approve a budget for 2023 by the end of the month.
On Wednesday, members of the Advertising and Promotion Commission approved a resolution in a voice vote to support the city of Little Rock's procurement of an ambassador program with up to $250,000 during an initial one-year pilot. Unlike the city board's resolution, the commission's measure did not specifically mention the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.
The commission oversees the operations of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, the local tourism agency that receives funding from taxes on hotels, motels and restaurants.
Gabe Holmstrom, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last year that although his group had relied on as many as four ambassadors in the past, the nonprofit was down to two. One was a full-time employee and the other was a contractor with a security firm, Holmstrom said.
At the time, voters were preparing to weigh in on a sales-tax package proposed by Scott that would have allocated a total of $5.5 million for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership's ambassador program over 10 years. The sales-tax increase was rejected in a Sept. 14, 2021, special election.
Although the city of Little Rock provides funding to the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, the group is an independent 501(c)(3), not an arm of the city.
On March 1, city board members voted to authorize a $195,000 contract with the Downtown Little Rock Partnership using funding allocated in the 2022 budget. City board documents said the organization's small staff included one ambassador overseeing four "contracted unarmed security personnel."
A budget amendment board members adopted in September allocated an additional $47,500 for the downtown group because of activities associated with the La Petite Roche Tricentennial held earlier this year. The amendment brought the city's total 2022 allocation for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership to $242,500.
According to an amended tax form for 2019, the most recent year for which information was available, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership reported receiving just over $771,000 in revenue.
Contributions and grants added up to $671,370 while program service revenue amounted to $99,166, according to the tax filing. The nonprofit reported ending the year with net assets or fund balances of $266,117.