The Austin Police Department has been making changes to increase safety measures on Sixth Street, but business owners say there is still more work to be done.
AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Police Department released a memo addressing how they are trying to make Sixth Street in Downtown Austin safer. This comes after there has been more violence and multiple shootings in the entertainment district this past year, most notably, the mass shooting that left one man dead and 13 others injured back in June.
The Austin City Council created the Safer Sixth Street Resolution following the mass shooting, and APD has been figuring out how to decrease violence in the area.
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said that he knows there is more work to be done, and multiple business owners agree.
“I see words over and over again like ‘explore,’ ‘suggest,’ ‘briefly list,’ ‘determine,’ ‘initiate,'” said Jesse Fortney as he looked through APD’s memo.
Fortney is the owner of Gnar Bar, which is in the Sixth Street Entertainment District. He said these words need to be turned into action.
“We’re tired of people getting shot, getting murdered. We don’t want to see APD in danger. We don’t want people to say, ‘I’m not going to Sixth Street because of all the gang violence and the murder, the Dirty Sixth Street.’ We’re tired of it,” shared Fortney.
Fortney said the lighting improvements the City has made are helpful, but that there are bigger issues to tackle. He believes some businesses on the street attract the wrong kind of people, and he believes that issue needs to be looked at further.
“If there’s teenage kids from Killeen coming to a certain area on Sixth Street and shooting into a crowd, why are they coming to that area?” said Fortney.
APD plans to have a permanent staging area on weekend nights on Sixth Street to get to potential victims quickly if there is violence, but Fortney said he wants the change to be proactive, not reactive.
“Instead of plan for responding to mass casualties, to prevent mass casualties. That’d be great,” said Fortney.
Other business owners also feel there needs to be more preventative measures than just being prepared to respond to violence.
“It sounds like you’re going to war,” said Marc Roppolo, owner of Roppolo’s Pizzeria on Sixth Street. “Sounds like you’re in Afghanistan, or going back to Afghanistan or something. I mean, that’s not, that doesn’t sound to me like embracing safety.”
Roppolo has had his pizzeria for 31 years and has seen Sixth Street change for the good and bad. He said the last 10 years have been when he has seen more issues. He actually hired his own security guards for the restaurant after the mass shooting in June.
Roppolo has been working with the City and is happy with its focus on safety in the area, but he disagrees with APD’s recent choice to leave the street closed to cars on weekend nights.
“If you go down to West Sixth Street going towards Lamar, you know where all the bars are down there. If you go to East Sixth Street, those bars and those streets are not closed,” explained Roppolo. “If you go to the South Congress, they’re also not closed and they don’t have people on the streets walking around looking for problems.”
Whether Sixth Street is a place these businesses have called home for over 30 years, or less than two years, the owners want the same thing.
“I want old, fun, entertaining, safe Sixth Street back. That’s that’s what I want,” said Fortney.
“My hope is that as we move into 2022, that Austin unites, you know, and recognizes what the gem that we have down here. It’s a gem,” said Roppolo.