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Helping downtown business district get its groove back

Rosemarie Sansone, president, downtown Business Improvement District.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Rosemarie Sansone says Boston's downtown is undergoing a renaissance. As head of the downtown Business Improvement District, she helps plan improvements funded by $4.2 million in annual fees paid by downtown property owners. Sansone recently spoke with Globe reporter Casey Ross about the effort.

To people who have not been downtown in a while, what would you tell them about how it has changed ?

In a sense, downtown has returned to what it was, the Hub of the Hub, but in a way that will be better and more sustainable. We are now a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week neighborhood. We have some of the city's best new restaurants, great shopping, entertainment and historical destinations, as well as millions of square feet of high-class office space and new best-in-class apartments.

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How has the BID helped to improve the ambience and experience?

One of the biggest ways people feel our impact is through our ambassador program, which keeps the district clean, assists visitors, and maintains a positive relationship with police, first responders, and [the Department of Public Works]. It has been extremely gratifying to receive countless letters and e-mails from people who have felt the impact, whether through a returned wallet, removed unsightly graffiti, or just cleaner streets.

Is it difficult for you to walk around the downtown without obsessing over details, every piece of paper dropped or storefront placard out of place?

The work has become a passion, having lived and worked downtown for close to 40 years. So, yes, I can be a bit obsessive. I spend a fair amount of time walking the district each day, making sure I know firsthand what things look like, observing how people are using the district, talking with them and listening to what they have to say.

At first, you had a few opt-outs by property owners who declined to pay the assessment. Where does that stand?

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In August of 2012, the state Legislature removed the opt-out provision. In keeping with this legislative change, we held a renewal meeting in June where our members overwhelmingly voted to renew for another five years. Now, those who opted out are included in the membership.

What do you hope the Filene's project does to reshape the area?

The Millennium Tower will make a profound statement. As Boston's largest residential tower, it will alter the Boston skyline and give us a landmark to point to and say, "That's the new Downtown Boston."

What are the challenges for mayor-elect Martin Walsh? What does the downtown need?

The challenges will be to make Boston a global city, welcoming for everyone. There will always be complicated issues, such as homelessness, affordable housing, education, density, environmental concerns, public safety, and the delivery of day-to-day services. But we must do more and we must be better to compete with other cities around the world.

Responding to the vision of Boston by the fastest-growing demographic — the 20- to 34-year-olds — will be a challenge. Mayor-elect Walsh will need to lead the way by being flexible, nimble at technology, and speak to this group effectively. I look forward to working with him.

Can downtown compete with Newbury Street as a shopping and dining destination?

Our mission isn't to compete with Newbury Street. We are looking to establish a truly all-in-one neighborhood, where Boston's leading companies — from the Fortune 500 to innovative start-ups — have a home. As the hub of the transit system, we will continue to be a major point of entry for employees, students, and visitors.

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Five years from now, what do you want people to say about downtown when they visit?

I'm looking forward to the day when our status as one of Boston's premier destinations is an accepted fact rather than a surprise. With every person who visits the district we get a little closer. That's why it's important for us to continue to host community events, assist visitors and residents, and support the district's property owners. All of those efforts get noticed and help make downtown Boston the kind of place it really should be.