Peter McBroom says that when dressed in his uniform of black slacks, purple shirt and yellow vest, he is sometimes mistaken by visitors to Columbus as a law enforcement officer.
However, McBroom's role is not keeping downtown clean of crime but of trash.
That includes everything from beer bottles and hamburger wrappers to tree branches and leaves.
McBroom is the supervisor of the Business Improvement District's Clean Team. Four men work under his direction.
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"That group works seven days a week providing maintenance over and above what the city provides on a daily basis," Uptown Columbus CEO Richard Bishop said. "The work they do is critical because we want visitors to have a clean and safe environment so they will want to come back."
Uptown Columbus is a non-profit organization chartered to encourage and support quality development and redevelopment in Columbus. Uptown manages the BID, begun in 1999 to facilitate and coordinate economic revitalization downtown.
Property owners within a 47-block area pay a special assessment above their regular property taxes. This assessment is collected by the city and the city contracts with the BID to provide services.
Besides the clean team, there is a group known as ambassadors, also decked out in purple.
"The vests are the difference," McBroom said. "Of course, I think we are all ambassadors for the city."
The official ambassadors are present to provide assistance in the form of directions and information to those people living, working or visiting downtown. Their role is to enhance public safety as the eyes and ears of the street and their presence aids in overall crime prevention.
The clean team is make sure the downtown area has a high degree of cleanliness. McBroom said his crew also aid police by noticing where trouble might be happening.
"I've had to intervene in some fights but that is really the role of the police," McBroom said. "We contact them."
A former Army staff sergeant,who has worked as a cook at Fort Benning and a baker at Callaway Gardens, McBroom was a cook for 19 years at the Rankin Quarter restaurant but lost his job when it closed.
Though he had another cooking job lined up, he stopped by the BID office to see what kind of work might be available there.
McBroom believes Bishop hired him for his leadership abilities and said this has been his most fulfilling job since getting out of the military.
How long have you been with BID?
I have been here for a year.
What is the team's main job?
We keep the streets litter free and also remove graffiti. Graffiti is a problem. Most of it is negative and it is defacing property, It is making something messy out of something that is nice.
What kind of hours are worked?
We operate seven days a week. Monday through Friday, we work 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, we work 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Why those hours on the weekend?
Saturday, the city has Market Days on Broadway and need to clean up from the bar action the night before. The bars are the main reason we're out Sunday morning.
You believe the city would not look as good if not for the purple people, don't you?
Absolutely. Without our work, the city would look a lot different.
You like the way downtown Columbus looks don't you?
I travel to other cities. Uptown Columbus is far better than any I've seen.
Is there is a special talent needed to be one of the purple people?
You should be a good communicator.
That purple really stands out.
That is why we wear it. We are easy for people to spot.
You guys have gotten pretty well known haven't you?
They call us the purple people and some visitors say they have heard about us before they get here. It's great to have that kind of reputation.
What do you enjoy about the job?
Just the chance to assist people and getting a job done.
Do you feel you have made a difference in the operation?
Most of the guys under me are half my age. I try to give them a sense of purpose and get them to realize this is more than just a job. This is work in which to be proud.
So, the guys work hard?
Absolutely. We would not get
job done without the guys being as dedicated as they are. It just would not be possible.
You do a lot of walking, don't you?
I've lost 42 pounds since I began this job.
Downtown is a lot different than it was when you moved here more than 20 years ago, isn't it?
It is a lot different than it was a few years ago. When I came here it was dead. Nobody hung around downtown. Nobody ever directed people to come downtown to eat or shop but now they do so now. I enjoying hanging around downtown after I am through working.
Do you think people like downtown because it is clean?
I think that plays a part in the success we're having.
What kind of stuff do you find when working?
We find all kinds of things. We find hypodermic needles, broken bottles, cans of paint. Just about anything.
The homeless people leave some of it but there are others who just come and dump their trash.
What other ways do you help people?
We carry a power box so that we can help people who have a dead car battery, I've pushed a few cars out of the way. I've also changed a few tires.
Though you are not the official ambassadors, you are ambassadors aren't you?
You have got to have the right attitude to do this job. You have to be friendly. You can't be a sourpuss. People ask me all the time for directions but even more than that they will ask for suggestions about a place to eat or shop. I make it my business to know the businesses and help them find what they are looking for. Some people might be looking for some good beer such as they have at the Cannon Brew Pub, others might be looking for some wine, perhaps a place like Brushes and Beverages. I try to keep up with what's new, not just downtown, but in Columbus. A visitor may be looking to go on a shopping junket and downtown can't fulfill everybody's needs. The hotels might be full downtown and they need to find a good hotel in another area of town.