New safety measures explored to take on ‘haven for crime’ on Red River St.

The intersection of Red River Street and Eighth Street (KXAN Photo)
The intersection of Red River Street and Eighth Street (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City Council agreed in Thursday’s meeting to look at ways to make one of Austin’s downtown entertainment districts safer.

The Red River District attracts people wanting to experience the live music Austin is known for, but it’s also attracting crime local business owners say they’re tired of dealing with. In particular, an alley between Seventh and Eighth streets KXAN told you about back in October. Thursday’s council move marked a step forward.

Stephen Sternschein, managing partner of Empire Control Room and Garage, told KXAN, “It’s become kind of like a haven for crime… all sorts of really terrible things.”

Things he says are happening directly behind his business.

“Drug deals going down, people selling K2, people selling other kinds of drugs, prostitution, public defecation, fights, assaults,” Sternschein rattled off. He and other business owners on Red River say they’ve developed a relationship with the Austin Police Department because of the sheer amount of phone calls they’ve put in.

“We want people to be able to leave our establishments and feel safe,” Sternschein said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo recently did a walk-through with APD to get a better grasp of the area’s needs. “One of the things that really struck me, with regard to that alley, there had been a plan in place to get lighting. And then for various reasons it fell through,” she said.

Now, the City Council is committed to better lighting the area, determining what it will take to get sidewalk improvements and change the layout of the alley, as well as clean up trash and human waste.

“That’s really a critical need,” Tovo said. She explained the city needs to help police who are already putting resources into the area. Red River has experienced concerns with a high homeless presence and related drug activity, like K2.

“We need to make their job easier by making sure they have the infrastructure in place,” Tovo said, like enhanced lighting.

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) was built next to the Red River District in 2004. In the past, Austin police have reported large numbers where a homeless person was either the suspect, or the victim, in crimes downtown.

There has even been a call to move the ARCH and other shelters to cut down on the issue. However, earlier this year, Mayor Steve Adler put out an invitation to come up with a different plan, potentially as a transfer center to other services outside of downtown.

Sternschein told KXAN it feels good to have Council respond to concerns he and others have raised, calling it a step in the right direction. “We’re just really glad to have metaphorical light being shone on the situation and we’ll be able to clean up this area,” he said.

The city paid for a survey of the alley between Seventh and Eighth streets and is exploring whether closing a portion of the alley altogether will enhance security. That study is expected to be completed next month.

Council directed the city manager to explore whether hotel taxes can be used for these improvements.

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