AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council approved another resolution Thursday in an effort to make Sixth Street in Austin’s entertainment district safer.
Councilmember Kathie Tovo sponsored the resolution that directs City Manager Spencer Cronk and other city staff to:
- Provide Council with options for taking legal action against establishments with records of repeated violent incidents
- Work with Sixth Street bar owners to encourage written safety plans
- Initiate a comprehensive lighting survey and encourage owners to add lighting to private properties
- Create an entertainment permit to strengthen staff training and communication with public safety professionals
- Update Council on progress toward establishing an Emergency Medical Services staging area on Sixth Street
- Provide information and recommendations about potentially re-establishing a gun buyback program
- Propose a pilot program to make loans or grants to historic buildings along Sixth Street for kitchen additions
- Communicate any possible new recommendations after festivals this spring, like South by Southwest
A previous resolution kickstarted the new lighting project for the district, plus had joint actions with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to stop underage drinking and start work on a “nightlife management plan.” It also called for emergency personnel to have a staging area to respond to incidents quicker.
“Can we get the old safe fun 6th Street back?” said bar owner Jesse Fortney. “What we’re deathly afraid of is something bad happening.”
He’s been calling for change ever since November of last year when two separate shootings happened inside the same 6th Street Bar – The Lodge – within about two weeks.
“Austin, Texas – 6th Street – was the most amazing place on earth years back. But now it’s like – what do we even do to stay alive on this street,” he said, referring to keeping business up while he says more people opt for alternative downtown locations like West 6th or Rainey Street.
“We’re taking a broad approach to public safety in the area that advances staff’s recommendations while continuing to work collaboratively with Sixth Street bar owners and stakeholders on safety standards, including curbing the prevalence of underage drinking,” Tovo said.
The resolution also aims to start a partnership with the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation to give the area “a more family-friendly atmosphere.”
“It is paramount to the culture and vibrancy of downtown Austin to activate public spaces on and around East Sixth Street,” said Molly Alexander, the executive director of the DAAF.
In the previous Safer 6th Street memo released in December, city staffers advised against opening 6th Street up to traffic at night.
Tovo hopes adding outdoor seating on the sidewalks when the street is closed off to cars will help facilitate a less rowdy atmosphere.
“There’s a lot of space on 6th when the street is closed,” she said. “Less space for pedestrians to walk, and shifting the balance there would be helpful in terms of encouraging more positive behaviors and discouraging fights.”
TABC says it will ramp up inspections this month as Downtown Austin welcomes Spring Break and SXSW crowds. City Council will review the need for additional safety measures after seeing how those two events go.
KXAN’s Investigates team dug deep into the issues plaguing the district, once a vibrant center of Austin’s live-music culture that has quickly turned into an area of criminal and violent activity. KXAN’s team traveled to Arlington, Virginia, a county adjacent to Washington, D.C., to see how officials there dealt with gun violence.