A man was shot on Sixth Street with non-life-threatening injuries early Thursday morning, marking the second Sixth Street shooting in a week as the city works to address the nightlife district's now-notorious gun violence issues.
Austin police said they received a call around 12:30 a.m. Thursday after two men "may have been engaged in gunplay" with each other near Pete's Dueling Piano Bar on East Sixth Street, according to Officer Eric Cleveland. One man was shot and hospitalized with non-critical injuries.
The shooting comes just two days after a man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after being shot at East Sixth Street's Lodge Bar early Tuesday morning.
Some business owners, including Gnar Bar owner Jesse Fortney said they're losing hope in the area's safety.
"This has ruined Sixth Street completely. It makes owning a business on this street almost impossible," Fortney told KXAN.
The shootings come as the city mobilizes to improve safety on Sixth Street as both the city and district follow a nationwide uptick in gun violence this year. In June, City Council adopted a Safer Sixth Street Initiative after a mass shooting that left one dead and 15 hospitalized on June 15. As of November 11, six homicides and nearly 60 aggravated assaults have been reported in the area this year.
Four months after the mass shooting and a few days before a 17-year-old died in an officer-involved "gun battle" in the district, the city reported nine priorities in the works to curb the violence.
APD, Austin Fire and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services have teamed up to create an on-site command center for a "rescue task force," according to Police Chief Joseph Chacon. APD will also partner up with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission to crack down on fake IDs and underage drinking.
Austin Energy, which reported that as many as 10% of the area's historic streetlights were not working previously, has replaced 64 lights with brighter LED fixtures in the area and is improving maintenance on side streets and alleys.
But studies have shown a mixed bag on whether increased lighting can prevent crimes. While the New York City Police Department found in an experiment that increased levels of lighting led to a 36% reduction in "index crimes"— including murder, robbery, aggravated assault and certain property crimes— several other studies have found little to no evidence that this is the case, and a few have shown the opposite to be true.
Instead, a 2019 study in the Homeland Security Affairs Journal found that "place management," which involves behaviors of business managers in an area, might be the key to preventing crime in entertainment districts. A Kansas City study found that "13% of the city's 535 taverns produced half of the 11,338 offenses that occurred over a five-year period," meaning that certain businesses became notorious for crime and thus attracted danger.
The idea of cultivating relationships between business owners in these areas has become a nationwide trend and Austin has looked to other districts across the country for help. The Clarendon Entertainment District in Arlington, Virginia, was once grappling with safety concerns like Sixth Street but has since slowly built trust between bar staff and police by prioritizing training and "a constant flow of communication" with enforcement.
Brian Block, Austin's manager of entertainment services, is using the district as a sort of role model as they look to build that relationship on Sixth Street.
"We can always increase and improve the communication and partnerships," Block told KXAN. "That's really what we're after, in making it more formal, adding formal training, and adding formal meetings where we can enhance that dialogue."
Most recently, the Downtown Commission is looking into switching up Sixth Street's public space design could make it more welcoming to pedestrians. Multiple organizations could be involved in promoting daytime non-drinking activities, such as a farmers' market, and converting vacated lots into more diverse businesses such as theaters, Block said.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.