Downtown’s Ambassador Force marks 20th year on the job

April 4,2016

Renee Perdue Rucker is an original — member of the Ambassador Force, that is. The former travel agent was one of the first selected to wear the white helmet and distinctive uniform that has over the last 20 years become a symbol of downtown Atlanta.

“I got started in February when it was really cold,” said Rucker of the program’s original launch in the winter of 1996. “Then I realized once it started getting warm and I was meeting people and doing what we do as ambassadors — giving directions and information — I fell in love with it.”

Ambassadors have their work cut out for them. Downtown attracts more than 20 million visitors annually. Many arrive for conventions or to see the growing number of downtown attractions that have sprung up since the Olympics. Members are trained to know where things are and be a source of information about everything the city has to offer.

During 2015 the force greeted 1.2 million people, while providing assistance to more than 9,500 people.

Atlanta’s Ambassador Force got its start as the city prepared for one of the world’s biggest events, the 1996 Summer Olympics. In February of that year, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District— a nonprofit community improvement entity funded by commercial property owners — rolled out the first crop. They were introduced to the business community that was paying for them at a meeting at the Atlanta Hyatt the next month. Their mission was to make sure downtown was safe, clean and most of all hospitable to thousands of workers and visitors.

“I believe that the Ambassador Force provided the missing link that we needed in downtown Atlanta to create a stronger relationship between the business community, the out-of-town visitors and local residents who came downtown,” said Tim Lindgren, former chairman of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) who now runs The Lindgren Group Ltd. in Savannah. “The Ambassador Force became a very visible part of the streetscape.”