Have you noticed a change in downtown Boston?

Business Improvement District is having an impact

In five months on the job, the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District says it has hauled away 32,000 pounds of trash and removed 1,500 graffiti sites. It has organized art displays, jazz performances, car shows, and restaurant crawls. And the BID has hired 31 highly visible employees who wear orange shirts and serve as street-level ambassadors for the downtown area.

People who work in the 34-block area day in and day say it is improving, but the positive changes are still being overshadowed by empty storefronts and the hole in the ground at Downtown Crossing that used to be Filene’s Basement.

“The place is definitely cleaner,” says Paul Binder, sales manager at the AT&T store at the corner of Washington and Franklin Streets. He said the BID’s efforts were changing the perception of the Downtown Crossing area, making it feel safer. “But there’s an upper limit,” he said. “Scraping gum off the ground isn’t a useful thing to do when you’ve got a much bigger eyesore. I mean, it is useful, just not as useful as it could be, at least right here.”

With city revenues tight, the BID is an attempt to boost an area that still attracts an enormous amount of daily foot traffic but was starting to sag. It was launched April 4 after more than 80 percent of the commercial property owners in the district agreed to voluntarily pay higher property taxes to fund cleanup, marketing, and security functions in the area. Its annual budget is $2.9 million, with 42 percent going for cleaning, 20 percent for the hospitality ambassadors program, 10 percent for events, and the rest for administration, capital projects, and other purposes.

Geographically, the BID is a giant triangle with South Station at one corner, Government Center at another, and the intersection of Boylston and Tremont Streets at the third. It encompasses all or parts of the Theatre District, the Ladder District, the Financial District, and Downtown Crossing.

Merchants who work in the area say the BID is having a positive impact. “The first thing you see is cleaner streets — first things first,” said Doris Wong, owner of a court reporting firm on Franklin Street and board member of the BID. Wong said that BID members at the last meeting commented, “You know, it smells better.”

Craig Caplan, who runs two pushcarts in Downtown Crossing and owns and rents out many others, said that sales are better this year than the previous two. He credits the BID for the uptick, saying the cleaner feel to the area and programs like Art Fridays have helped boost sales. But, he added, “Nothing major is going to change until 1 Franklin becomes something other than a big hole in the ground,” referring to the name for the building that was once planned for the Filene’s Basement site.

Caplan also points up Washington Street to an empty storefront where the white ghosts of removed letters still spell out “Barnes and Noble.” Further up the street, the massive Borders book store is papered with “Going out of business” signs.

“I have a lot of faith in this downtown area,” Caplan said. “It’s totally safe here. It just has the appearance of being a little rough around the edges.”

Rosemarie Sansone, who runs the BID, says she believes the organization is having a major impact. She says she has received thank-you notes from visitors to Boston from all over the country and the world, mostly thanking the ambassadors for their help. The ambassadors have been “great publicity for the city of Boston,” Sansone said, because many people have heard that “Boston isn’t particularly friendly.”

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The next major step, Sansone said, is capital improvements. The BID will function as an advocate and coordinator to secure city, state, and federal money for things like sidewalks, streets, and light fixtures that the BID itself won’t be able to fund. “Now those things take time,” Sansone said. “They could be on a two or three-year cycle, but we need to start making those plans and prioritizing those things now.”

The BID has also begun meeting with leasing agents, Sansone said, who are beginning to see the BID as a catalyst for attracting other businesses to the area. “We’re seeing people engaged in a very different way,” Sansone said. “They believe that this model, which has worked successfully in every other city in the country in increasing property values, in addressing empty store fronts, and really changing the whole perception of the area, will have a dramatic change on this one as well.”

It just takes time, Sansone said, urging people to look for change not in months but years and even decades. “We’re very impatient with ourselves,” she said.