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Six months in, Safer Sixth Street initiative continues

Monday, January 24, 2022 by Willow Higgins

At this week’s meeting, the Downtown Commission established a working group to help think through and execute the Safer Sixth Street initiative, which has been in the works for about six months.

The project, which came about after a mass shooter killed one and injured more than a dozen other people last June, includes a number of policy and cultural changes to help prevent violence in the entertainment district.

The city expects Sixth Street to remain a lively space for nightlife for the long term, said Brian Block, the entertainment services manager of the Development Services Department, who presented at the meeting. The idea of the initiative is to keep nightlife vibrant, while increasing safety and incorporating different types of businesses and activities in the area that also operate during daytime hours.

“These are … key goals and aspirations to create a district that’s vibrant and well-planned and diverse and safe,” Block said.

Block focused on two of the many action items included in the Safer Sixth Street initiative. The Austin Police Department and the DSD released an update on the initiative in a memo in late December, detailing each action item.

One goal discussed at the meeting is the creation of an entertainment permit for business owners operating in the area. The permit will function to increase communication and partnerships between bar operators, city departments, law enforcement and public safety agencies to ensure everybody works together to address safety concerns.

“Our hope is that this approach will create an environment in which bars and clubs have a strong working relationship with law enforcement and public safety and that they’re really working closely together to prevent issues,” Block said. “Inevitably there will be incidents. When those happen (they should) be able to respond in close coordination with each other.”

The idea is to formalize the relationship between all parties by developing a safety plan, which could include things like increased training and security personnel and regular meetings with the permit holders. The permit should be convenient to obtain – the city is working on ways to make it so businesses can renew all required permits in one fell swoop.

The other goal Block detailed is diversifying the activities and businesses in the area to create a culture that is not solely focused on drinking. As part of this effort, the city is piloting a project to allow businesses to use sidewalks and car lanes for dining and live music on select blocks of Sixth Street on nights when the streets close to vehicles.

Block explained that this would leave plenty of space for emergency vehicle access and fire lanes while allowing space for music or performance art installations in addition to seating and dining.

Similarly, the city will also be piloting a project that allows the use of sidewalk space and parking spaces for dining access even when the streets are not closed.

Downtown commissioners told Block they’re excited about diversifying the types of activities that operate in the area, and enthusiastic about making sure the changes are easy enough for the establishments to implement. 

Commissioner David Gomez brought up a previously discussed idea of having local schools with drama departments bring daytime theater performances to the street. Gomez described the potential for “this magic that happens when there is a presence of younger individuals in a certain area that seems to bleed into what happens at night.”

Small performances and theater are exactly what the team had in mind, Block responded.

Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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