Tempe wants people to know downtown for its shops, lush trees and brick sidewalks, but recently some of those features have been overshadowed by dead plants, gum and bird droppings.
The city is launching a new effort to clean downtown and beautify it after years of confusion over maintenance duties. The new approach should be in place by January, but already city crews are steam cleaning the sidewalks and paying more attention to details, said Don Bessler, Tempe’s public works director.
“For many years, the accumulated gum build up on the bricks has been something that’s plagued our downtown and generally just made it look tired,” Bessler said.
The gum is one example of how things worked – and sometimes didn’t work – in the downtown.
City crews would use power-cleaning equipment as a broom, Bessler said, which was more effort than needed while still not removing gum. Now, crews are scraping up gum and focusing mechanized cleaning on the dirtiest areas. Public works crews can spend more time around the rest of Tempe because workers are getting downtown cleaner in less time than was spent there before, Bessler said.
“When we spend time there, we’re spending quality time instead of just time,” he said.
The city is supposed to perform basic services downtown while the nonprofit Downtown Tempe Community provides extras such as additional cleaning, planting flowers and other beautification.
Yet the DTC staff didn’t have much time for beautification efforts because workers spent so much time doing things the city should have done, said Nancy Hormann, the DTC’s executive director.
“We never knew when they were cleaning and who was cleaning, and having four different departments in charge of cleaning downtown was very difficult for us,” Hormann said. “We could not provide that enhanced level of service.”
Now, the DTC knows the city power-washes sidewalks five days a week, sweeps every street at 2:30 a.m. every day and removes trash daily. The DTC has created a clean team that goes through downtown from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.
The city and the DTC are working on a handout for merchants that encourages them to report problems to the correct party. A sketch depicts a downtown streetscape and notes whether the city or the DTC are responsible for things like graffiti, trash, benches and more.
Councilman Corey Woods said he’s encouraged at the new approach.
“I didn’t know before who was responsible for what. And at the end of the day, I didn’t even know at times who to call or who to ask,” Woods said. “The fact that I now know who is responsible for each thing downtown makes me just that much more comfortable.”
The DTC is working on plans to make downtown more festive, Hormann said, with murals on blank walls, colorful banners and hanging flower baskets. Each block of Mill Avenue has just one basket now because of the cost. Hormann said the DTC will seek sponsors for baskets throughout downtown and expects many more will be in place within a year.
“I wanted to get the baskets up,” Hormann said, “and then say to people, ‘Don’t you think we need more?’ ”