AUSTIN -- Two years ago the city spent more than $11 million to improve Brazos Street. This week staff removed nearly two dozen benches that used to sit in-between the trees there, after business owners and residents say the renovations they initially welcomed actually brought a whole host of problems.
"This was not a homeless issue. This was a criminal vagrant issue," said Shelley Meyer, co-owner of Wild About Music on 6th Street.
Meyer says when the city revamped Brazos Street and added benches, problems came right to her front door.
"It often looked like night of the living dead here," she said. "We've had our windows keyed, we've had threats made by telephone and verbally into the store, we've had them burst into the door during a very busy Saturday and yell racial epithets at our customers."
Meyer got together with several other business owners, residents, and the downtown alliance to start a petition to get the city's attention.
"We were calling APD on an average of 15 times a day to report drug use, drug sales and prostitution going on on our corner," Meyer claimed.
This week the city removed the 23 benches on the street, saying it gave this criminal element a place to congregate.
The benches are part of the city's Great Streets Program. Staff say they've been doing this since 2000 and overall it's been very successful.
"25 blocks in downtown Austin have already been upgraded to Great Streets standards and this is the first time ever we had this type of situation," said Program Coordinator Humberto Rey. "In this case it caused more of a problem than a benefit."
It's a lesson learned and Rey says they'll be more aware when looking at future projects.
The Brazos Street reconstruction cost $11.2 million including lights, pavement, trees and those benches. Each bench cost $2500. Removal was less than $200.
"I couldn't be happier with the response we got and the results," Meyer said.
Those benches are currently in storage being cleaned up and repaired. Public works staff will meet next week to discuss where to reuse them.