Business owners in the Red River Cultural District are desperate for help securing an alley that runs from the Austin Research Center for the Homeless to Waller Creek.
The alley is city-owned property and city leaders said they have been working on a plan to secure and close it off since 2015. Still, none of the planned improvements are in place.
“It's just beyond a shame that this isn't the top of a priority list for the city and for council,” said Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District Merchant’s Association.
City leaders said solving Austin’s homeless crisis is at the top of their priority list, and they believe until they can find ways to do that, crime taking place at the alley off Red River won't go away.
“This is a challenge we have all over the city, not just in one place,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
However, business owners on Red River said one place in particular has gone from bad to worse, the alley. “Drug dealing, prostitution, fighting, mugging, it's terrible,” said David Machinist, co-owner of Empire Control Room.
“I think it's a mess too, that area, and my staff, along with the staff of the mayor pro tem, walked it with the city staff, as well as the homeless advocates in the City, and they're working on implementing a game plan right now to address that,” Adler said.
For about three years, City Council has been working to come up with ideas to cut down on crime in the Red River area. The plan is to add lighting and a gate to restrict access to the alley. The mayor hopes that will be done within the next six weeks.
“I'm happy that we're finally taking action. It is moving way too slow, and that frustrates me all the time now that I'm involved in government,” said Adler.
“We have no patience at all. Let's just get this alley closed. I know the money is there, I know the city has key staff working on it, let's just get it closed,” Cowan said.
Austin police said they have stepped up patrols there, but don't have the resources to keep an officer on site permanently and as soon as the cops leave, criminals return.
“The police don't have enough resources? Demand it. The City Council won't do their job planning everything they're supposed to do? You demand they do it,” said Richard Lynn, owner of Beerland.
City officials said additional staffing for APD is on the way. “In order for us to really move forward with new resources for the police department, we had to approve a police contract,” Adler said.
Still, business owners said they'll believe it when they see it.
“The city council and the mayor work for us. I don't think people remember that. We just voted for these people. They work for us. They're not doing their job, if results matter. If results matter, this alley would not have been taken over by criminals,” said Lynn.
The mayor said city groups will meet next week to discuss challenges at the ARCH. He also plans to use bond money approved during the November election to help solve Austin’s homeless crisis.