AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following another shooting in downtown Austin’s Entertainment District over the weekend, KXAN is looking into whether the city is on track to make safety changes council members called for earlier this year.
According to the Austin Police Department, two people were hurt in a shooting at 500 East 7th Street early Sunday morning, close to an hour after bars closed. A 20-year-old, Jaylin Gibson, was arrested.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday described the shooting scene as “out of control mayhem” in a tweet.
That shooting took place just days before council’s deadline for city staff to come up with a plan to curb underage drinking and other underage activity in the Sixth Street area on weekends.
Council set several of those deadlines in a resolution passed in July, outlining ways the city could make safety improvements and try out potential strategies to curb violence in the Sixth Street area.
By this Thursday, Sept. 30, the resolution asked the city manager’s office to coordinate with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission to come up with “strategies for curbing underage drinking and potentially limiting the presence of underage Austinites on Sixth Street during weekend evenings.”
The city was also directed to come up a with a program for businesses holding entertainment licenses that includes “safety training for staff and increased coordination and communication with public safety officers” by Thursday.
Before that deadline, the city manager’s office was directed to upgrade existing lighting and/or use temporary lighting to brighten the area and explore café seating, water barriers and other pop-up efforts to widen walkways for people using the bars along Sixth Street. The deadline for those changes was Aug. 30.
Additionally, by Oct. 30, city staff was directed to review its mass casualties response plan and consider potentially opening Sixth Street to vehicles on weekend nights in an attempt to cut down on the number of people who congregate when the street is shut down.
City council member Kathie Tovo is the driving force behind the resolution. She brought it forward to fellow council members in July.
Tovo says since then, the city has made progress, creating an interdepartmental team that’s meeting regularly to discuss solutions to help curb crime in the entertainment district. It’s being led by the city’s Music & Entertainment Division and APD.
“All of those departments, from the fire department to EMS to the stakeholders and owners in that area, have been involved in these conversations for years, but getting all of our city departments together in one room has been tremendously important,” Tovo said.
Tovo says some immediate improvements have already been made to lighting, although lighting infrastructure changes may take more time.
Similarly, Tovo says some of the project’s other improvements will take more take time, as well.
“It is going to be a comprehensive approach, and one that we will have some short term gains, I hope, and short-term strategies as well as working toward some longer ones,” Tovo said.
In a statement, the city of Austin told KXAN, “Implementation of Council’s comprehensive plan to make Sixth Street safer is well underway. The plan, which was approved at the end of July and comprises more than a dozen individual initiatives involving multiple City departments, will work in tandem with Austin Police Department’s ongoing violence intervention program to address the recent rise in gun crime. We anticipate providing Council with a further update soon.”
KXAN also checked in with the TABC on whether the city is meeting its Sept. 30 goal of developing strategies with the TABC to help curb underage drinking on Sixth Street.
“While TABC has been in discussion with APD on ways to work together along Sixth Street, there’s currently no formal plan to announce. We’ll continue to discuss potential joint operations and look for ways each agency can help uphold the safety of patrons and businesses downtown,” TABC spokesman Chris Porter told KXAN.
Meanwhile, Tovo says working with business owners along Sixth Street and in other parts of the Entertainment District is important in making the area safer.
Marc Roppolo, owner of Roppolo’s Pizzeria on Sixth Street, is one of the business owners who has met with Tovo and is working to improve the area himself.
After June’s mass shooting, he hired private security for his restaurant and installed a security system with a panic button inside the pizza shop. He says he can already tell the security upgrades have made an impact, with employees and patrons feeling safer.
“Every bar and every business on the street has a responsibility on their own to ensure the safety of the street and safety of the clientele that’s down here,” Roppolo said.
Roppolo says bar owners in the area are also trying to bring back more live music and make Sixth Street appealing for everyone. He likes a lot of city leaders’ ideas, like allowing restaurants to have family-friendly café seating on the sidewalks and cracking down on underage drinkers.
“You really can have it all,” Roppolo said. “Sixth Street, you can have it all, it’s just a matter of everyone coming together and working together to make it happen.”