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Entertainment permit among actions Council envisions for safer Sixth Street

Friday, March 4, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city could institute an entertainment permit for nightclubs and other late-night gathering spots downtown as part of its plans to curb violence in the Sixth Street entertainment district.

City Council voted unanimously Thursday to move forward with an assortment of programs and other actions related to the Safer Sixth Street effort that was launched last summer after a mass shooting in the area killed one person and injured more than a dozen others.

The entertainment permit provision directs the city manager to prepare the ordinances required to enact the annual license that would require a safety and communications plan and codes of conduct and training for applicants’ staff, with approvals conducted by the Austin Fire Department and Development Services Department.

The resolution also directs the creation of pilot programs around seating, dining and other activations on sidewalks in the 200, 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Sixth Street, with recommendations for improved pedestrian lighting. It also asks for options for safe gun storage options for those using emergency city housing, as well as information relating to the success of previous gun buyback programs and a recommendation on establishing a new program.

Since initial action was taken last summer, the city has explored promoting alternative uses for business space on Sixth Street, which is dominated by bars and nightclubs that attract customers in the evenings and leave the area largely inactive during daylight hours.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the area, said it would take a variety of actions, including addressing gun violence, to change the nature of the area and make it safer.

“Sixth Street has experienced an increase in gun violence, and it’s an issue of grave concern,” she said.

“I’ve heard a few comments this week about (how) the problem is not going to be solved through the measures that are in this,” she continued. “It’s not intended to be the one and only solution, because we need all of these strategies. And really, we absolutely need to invest in and to promote and to continue to strengthen those programs that are going to reduce the prevalence of guns in our community. That is certainly my number-one goal.”

Tovo said many of the items included in the plan put together after last summer’s shooting are contained in a group of reports from outside consultants that were never forwarded to Council. She said she only became aware of the reports from seeing a post on Facebook discussing them in the days after the shooting.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, who has made gun violence prevention one of her priorities, said the lighting, public infrastructure and other enhancements planned for the district are overdue.

“We need to be making these kinds of investments. I do want to underscore that our violence prevention efforts go well beyond Sixth Street, and particularly our ability to make sure that guns are not the only way that people have to resolve disputes or address trauma is really important as a step forward continuing the set of investments that we’re making as a community,” she said. “There’s a range of fun activities that we can introduce with art, benches and seating for some of the restaurants down there that can help interrupt, disrupt some of the other activities that we really want to discourage.”

Council Member Pio Renteria said the nightclubs and other businesses in the district need to cooperate with the city in its efforts to improve the atmosphere and help it evolve away from an area dominated by drinkers and partygoers.

“I myself won’t go down Sixth Street anymore …. These incidents that keep happening there (are) going to be reported nationwide, so you’re going to get a reputation as being an unsafe area to attend by tourists,” he said. “We really need your help so that we can take control of the situation down there.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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