AUSTIN (KXAN) - Nearly two dozen park benches designed to enhance the atmosphere along a downtown street are gone.
The benches were installed two years ago as part of a plan to make several blocks of Brazos Street more pedestrian friendly. But area business owners and condo dwellers said the kind of pedestrians it attracted made one of Austin’s Great Streets worse.
“I’ve received half a dozen emails from businesses and people who live in the area who say ‘Thank God the benches are gone,’” said Mitchell McGovern, president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association.
Brazos Street business owners told KXAN they’ve spent months dealing with what they call violent vagrants who used the bench areas as their own rowdy party place, steps away from customers and staff.
“They’d come in, try to use the bathroom. We’ve had tip jars stolen," said Alexander Hamilton, manager at Handle Bar at Fifth Street and Brazos. "It’s happened around a lot of businesses, they’d just come in and steal whatever’s not glued down."
Police could do little.
The city’s sit/lie ordinance, where loiterers are asked to move, does not apply to benches. It only applies to planters and sidewalks. One business owner said he was calling police for help about six times a day.
McGovern said a flood of complaints prompted City Public Works leaders to recently visit and walk Brazos Street where they saw the problem firsthand.
Today, the only evidence you’ll see of the benches are the sheared bolts that anchored them to the sidewalk. Saturday, city crews removed 23 of the benches, leaving a just one at a bus stop at Brazos and Sixth Street. The next bench is nearly a block up the street.
Still, McGovern said the removal was an unfortunate solution given the situation.
The benches were installed two years ago as part of the $11.2 million rehabilitation of Brazos Street under the city’s Great Streets Development Program , aimed at giving private developers subsidies for enhancing area streetscapes beyond the city’s minimum standards.
On Brazos, groups of two wood and metal benches were clustered between large concrete sidewalk planters. It made the perfect outdoor intimate gathering spot for a pleasant afternoon conversation over coffee; and also an ideal hang out spot for intimidating groups of young loiterers, said McGovern.
“It may have been a little overbuilt. My concern is these people still went somewhere,” suggesting the panhandlers may have made their way two blocks west to Congress Avenue.
This is the second time benches have been hauled off this stretch. About a year ago, the city removed four benches at Sixth and Brazos streets after similar nuisance and vandalism complaints. The few that remain include solitary benches beside bus stops.
An Austin Public Works spokesperson says it is a lesson learned for future streetscaping projects that include outdoor furnishings.
“We’re to be looking very closely at positioning, how we put them in, where it makes the most sense,” said Carolyn Perez.
On other downtown streets, benches still have a place as Austin urban designers try to make the capitol a more people-friendly city. Each bench cost $2,500. Now, they have been cleaned and are in a public works warehouse to be used someplace else, perhaps on future Great Streets projects, city staff said.
Cold temperatures forecast for Saturday morning have prompted Georgetown officials to cancel the parade associated with the annual Christmas Stroll. The Stroll, however, will go on.
The Austin Humane Society reopened to the public Friday after closing its doors for six weeks.
The freezing and near-freezing rain that swooped into Central Texas overnight prompted numerous school closings and delays and made for a harrowing morning commute on Friday.
A man is charged with murder in the shooting death Wednesday of a woman at a North Austin auto repair shop, police said Friday.
The man who fell into a flood control channel and drowned last month was identified Friday as 57-year-old Ronald M. Allen.
Live music and art come together for Austin’s Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.