Red River business owners say crime-ridden alley is going unchecked

Music venue owners in the Red River Cultural District said enough is enough after a musician was assaulted leaving a gig at Beerland last week.

An alley in the district is a constant problem for those who work nearby because it serves as an access point between Waller Creek and, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

Richard Lynn has owned Beerland since the beginning of the year. During that time, he's become used to crimes being committed in the alley behind his venue. 

“I mean there’s a lot of stuff that's happened down here. We've had our employees assaulted, physically assaulted by these people, and our customers are scared to come down here,” Lynn said.  

He reached his breaking point after a member of the band Thunderstars got assaulted leaving Beerland Monday night. 

“Omar was knocked out. He hit the ground and the staff reacted quickly and got an ambulance out,” said Erik Kang, the lead singer for Thunderstars, who had just left the venue when the assault took place. 

Kang said bassist Omar Richardson suffered a concussion, but is recovering well. 

“He was taken away on a gurney in an ambulance after playing a show down here. That's not normal. That's not acceptable,” Lynn said.  

The alley where Richardson was waiting for his ride has long been a thorn in the side of business owners in the Red River Cultural District. 

“We'll clean it up and then, hours later, a whole bunch of homeless folks have defecated, peed all over the area, there's used condoms, drug paraphernalia, it's outrageous. It's like a third world country,” said David Machinist, co-owner of Empire Control Room.   

Lights and cameras added by venue owners are repeatedly broken, and, because the alley is city-owned property, attempts to add doors to exit vestibules have been denied. 

“It feels like it has gotten worse to be honest, and you can do whatever you want back in those alleys because no one polices them,” Machinist said.  

Austin Police Commander Jennifer Stephenson said officers have stepped up patrols in the alley and they are aware that it's an ongoing problem for the district. 

“As soon as cops leave, it comes back, so it's hard to keep the element away. If officer presence is not here, there's not a deterrent,” said Stephenson.  

Stephenson said police have made a positive impact on crime there this year. Reports are down, though there could be more than one reason for that. 

“We haven't called them as much in the recent past because, what are we doing? It's time that we have to take out of our day to continue to police this area, which should have police anyway,” Machinist said. 

“I would advise that they call every single time, because that's how we get our data points, that's how we know what's going on and where it's going on,” said Stephenson.  

“What you're telling me then, is that the police patrolling the area don't notice what we do, which is people just standing out in the open trading drugs for money, literally out in the open, as the cops go past. That's shocking. I mean, if they're waiting on us to call we have a problem. Or maybe they could do their job. I'd bet part of their job is to catch criminals,” Lynn said.  

APD said they don't have the resources to permanently station officers at the alley, but they have been working with the city on ideas to make the area safer for a few years now. In fact, there is a plan to add gates to the alley in the coming weeks.

Still, business owners said they can't take it anymore. 

“The city said they've been working on this since 2013, the alley, I think it's 2018, that's not anything to be proud of,” said Lynn.  

Something APD and business owners agree on is that Austin’s homeless population is too large for the ARCH to serve them all, and criminals are preying on the most vulnerable people who are stuck out on the street.